the Buzz for November 2011


don’t bring me down

posted at 3:23 pm by brandon in terra-trees

“Homecoming?! Adorable! It’s… it’s like Friday Night Lights,
but without all the depressing parts!”

— snooty New York socialite-slash-party-planner Gigi Godfrey (actress Megan Stevenson), half-mocking her best friend Zoe Hart (actress Rachel Bilson, a million billion miles away from The O.C., bitches), on the CW’s improbably charming new dramedy Hart of Dixie, which has really come into its own over the course of its eight aired episodes following a terribly stilted and stuffy pilot. (A has us watching this series religiously every week because it reminds him of his beloved Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and, indeed, Dixie‘s driving premise isn’t so dissimilar: it swaps out 1860s-era rural Colorado for modern-day rural Alabama as its primary home base, but otherwise, it’s the standard-issue fish-out-of-water story of a young hotshot surgeon from Manhattan who ends up relocating to a backwoods burg in the deep American south to take over her father’s medical practice, and who suffers from instant and extended culture shock from all the quirky eccentrics she runs across on her journey. And in the latest episode, it was homecoming week at the high school in Bluebell, Alabama, hence the quotation referenced above.) When you look at the bright, bubbly Bilson, you don’t immediately conjure the image of a brilliantly sophisticated surgeon, but she is unquestionably an ingratiating actress, and Dixie‘s crackerjack creative team has cannily built around their leading lady a whip-smart supporting cast, which includes former Lifetime-movie king Tim Matheson, oft-shirtless stud Wilson Bethel (an equal million billion miles removed from the intolerable sleaze he recently played on The Young and the Restless), and — wink, wink — Scott Porter and Cress Williams, a pair of Friday Night Lights grads who are showing off enchanting new colors in their latest roles. Dixie is certainly not life-changing television, but it’s full-to-bursting of heart, and it’s a cute and harmless way to spend a measly hour of your week. (It is also a lovely reminder of the glory days of the CW’s immediate progenitor, the WB, which, prior to its ghastly makeover five years ago, once stacked its schedule liberally with appealing series in this exact vein. Oh, how we should all long for those days to return.)


Colbie Caillat — “Brighter Than the Sun” (from All of You) — Brighter Than the Sun - All of You

Caillat’s brilliantly bubbly effervescence does not typically qualify as my particular cup o’ tea — wouldn’t my undying love for the terrific Tori Amos seem to amply buttress the assertion that I tend to prefer a little more angst in my aural choices? — but, in actual fact, I don’t think it’s humanly possible to ingest this bright, charming ditty without instantly getting in a better mood. (Especially on a rainy gray day such as the one I’m currently surrounded by here in the Centex.) So sue me: every now and again, I’m a total sucker for a heapin’ spoonful of some upbeat, peppy pop.


Alanis Morissette — “Thank U”
(from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie) — Thank U - Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Whatever you’re grateful for today, take this moment and shout it the hell out, baby.


Eva Cassidy — “Say Goodbye” (from Wonderful World) — Say Goodbye - Wonderful World

I was too verklempt yesterday to pull together even one coherent sentence on the subject — and by the time January 13, 2012 rolls around, I’ve no doubt that I’ll be a complete mess — but my heart was stuck firmly in midtown Manhattan on Friday, bleeding for the cast of my all-time favorite soap One Life to Live, which yesterday put its final scenes in the can a couple of months ahead of its scheduled series finale. (Yes, the serial is still slated to begin its, ahem, second life as an online series sometime early next year, although word broke last night that an unexpected funding snag has left those plans in serious limbo, which makes the fact of yesterday’s events that much more bittersweet.) I promise you I’ll have more thorough thoughts on my love for this groundbreaking television classic as we inch closer to its final airdate; meantime, just know that I’m having a bitch of a time coming to grips with this particular goodbye. (Compounding my agita: television talk titan Regis Philbin also signed off yesterday morning after something like six decades in front of the camera, and I was doing a pretty good job of holding it together until his co-host Kelly Ripa started to lose it during her deeply moving dissertation on what Regis has meant to her personally for the past decade, and at once, I was a blubbering fool right alongside her. All these freakin’ farewells, one on top of another and each more gut-wrenching than the last, are really starting to get to me, television gods!)


John Mellencamp — “Hurts So Good”
(from Words & Music: John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits) — Hurts So Good - Words & Music - John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits

At least to judge from his more recent releases, Mellencamp nowadays fancies himself as the natural successor to Joan Baez’s socially conscious crown. And while that’s all well and good (and certainly admirable), don’t you kinda miss the days when he bestrode the pop charts with that cocky gleam in his eye, blowing through tunes that were just randy, raucous fun? (Sorry, but I’m caught up in a perfect storm of nifty nostalgia: I have been reading a riveting new oral history of the origins of MTV for the past week or so, and I have been glued to VH1 Classic since Kelly yanked me out of bed at 6:24 this morning to go relieve herself; as a result, with each passing hour on this still-young day, I’ve been increasingly jonesing — somethin’ fierce, at that — for a return to the delicious innocence of those early ’80s salad days.)


R.E.M. — “We All Go Back to Where We Belong”
(from Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage [1982-2011]) — We All Go Back to Where We Belong - Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011 (Deluxe Version)

I have seismic quibbles with the tracklist of this new spankin’ new, supersized career-spanning compendium from America’s premier modern rock band — like, honestly, they made room for “Country Feedback” and “Electrolite” but not the staggeringly gorgeous “Daysleeper” (which would most seriously get my vote for best R.E.M. tune evah)? Still, if this does indeed mark the end of the road for Mister Stipe and company, I could hardly think of a more lovely epitaph than this. (Fare thee well, gentlemen, and thanks for the memories.)



Feist — “Bittersweet Melodies” (from Metals) — Bittersweet Melodies - Metals

Florence + the Machine — “Shake It Out” (from Ceremonials) — Shake It Out - Ceremonials (Deluxe Version)

Well isn’t this a fascinating study in the stark contrast of musical styles (and, apparently, of creative and commercial ambitions): the pop world has been waiting with bated breath to see how Leslie Feist and Florence Welch — two of the most lauded breakout acts of the past half-decade — would choose to follow up their first tastes of massive success. (Helped along by the catchy-as-crap left-field radio smash “1 2 3 4,” Feist burst onto the scene in the summer of 2007 with The Reminder, which was actually her third studio album but which might as well have been a debut, so radically did it reboot what she had been trying to accomplish as an artist theretofore; and Welch broke through with her British band’s first record, Lungs, last summer, riding a wave of buzz with their single, “Dog Days Are Over.”) And the approaches these women employ this time at bat couldn’t be more dissimilar: on the barren (and, at times, painfully precious) Metals, Feist by and large turns inward, punching up the inherently idiosyncratic nature of her work but abandoning — to the album’s devastating detriment, I’m afraid — the lovely lightheartedness that made Reminder such a fun, rollicking romp. Welch and her machine, meantime, are clearly hunting bigger game with their lushly riveting second act, tinkering more broadly with reverb (and with their trademark atmospherics) and making a leap toward mainstream commercial viability — all the while maintaining the integrity of the band’s firmly established sound and ethos — that is every bit as ingenious and jaw-dropping as was Coldplay’s sophomore record a decade ago. Methinks the comparison is hardly inapt: Welch and the ‘Play’s frontman, Chris Martin, are each lucky, on their best days, to hit a two on the charisma meter, but stick either of them directly behind a microphone and sparks tend to fly. I’d say the big difference between them is that, whereas Martin’s inescapable timidity as a vocalist impels the rest of his band (and, lord love a duck, his producer) to really step up their respective games, Welch’s ballsy, brilliantly acrobatic voice is clearly the star of her show, and she seems not at all afraid to tumble, twist, and turn it any which way in the process of commanding your attention. Easily one of the year’s best, boldest singles, the soaring, stunning “Shake” seems destined to be remembered as lovingly as we now remember “Clocks”: as the moment a good band, as a collective one, hit the next level and turned its aim toward great.


Heavy D and the Boyz (featuring Aaron Hall)
“Now That We Found Love”
(from The Best of Heavy D and the Boyz) — Now That We Found Love - 20th Century Masters - The Millenium Collection: The Best of Heavy D & The Boyz

The niche-fueled success of N.W.A. and Public Enemy clearly portended what was just around the bend, but as the ’80s gave way to the ’90s, the burgeoning hip-hop movement still tended to — or, at least, tried like hell to — maintain an air of fun-loving, gloriously naive innocence about itself. And bridging the gap between the wannabe pop stars (MC Hammer, Young MC) and the real deal Holyfields (Snoop, Dre, Biggie) just waiting in the wings, Heavy D (given name: Dwight Myers) was instrumental in dragging the genre permanently into the mainstream, brilliantly integrating into one cohesive sound elements of raucous rap, infectious dance, and straight-up soul, and riding this smash right into some well-earned crossover success. (Myers passed away yesterday at the too-damn-young age of 44 after collapsing from respiratory failure in the driveway of his California home, but his contributions to the artform won’t soon be forgotten. Rest in peace, Heavy.)


Jason Aldean — “Dirt Road Anthem” (from My Kinda Party) — Dirt Road Anthem - My Kinda Party

While trying to keep the birthday girl entertained yesterday morning before work, I was channel surfing past the Great American Country channel — which Sherry Ann used to hilariously refer to as “the Gack” because when it first appeared on her cable system, it sounded, according to her, as though it was being broadcast from a hole in the Earth — and happened to get myself sucked into the video for this criminally catchy ditty, which subsequently lodged itself in my skull for the entire remainder of the day. (God help you if you manage to get this one stuck in your head — lest you actually desire to have the words “chillin’ on the dirt road!” repeatedly slip from your lips at the most inopportune times because you simply can’t help yourself — although it must be said that, apparently, not everybody is susceptible to this song’s charms: A continually asks me to move forward whenever we’re in the car and “Anthem” pops up in the iPod rotation.) Aldean is up for a quintet of the coveted Country Music Association Awards later this week (including Song of the Year for this very work), and you have to reckon he’s a good bet to win at least one trophy. And you have to reckon he deserves to, if for no other reason than there’s no doubt he incited coronaries all up and down Music Row for somehow persuading crunchy music’s notoriously prudish program directors to add what is essentially a gussied-up rap tune to their playlists.


Van She — “Kelly” (from Van She) — Kelly - Van She - EP

Happy first birthday, my Kelly-girl. (And don’t eat too much cake all in one sitting, baby girl.) Love, Dad.


Kelly Clarkson — “Einstein” (from Stronger) — Einstein - Stronger (Deluxe Version)

Weeks on, I continue to find myself utterly intoxicated by Clarkson’s fabulously brilliant fifth album, the long-term commercial prospects for which I fear may well suffer thanks to the atypically low-key nature of its neither-fish-nor-fowl lead single, “Mr. Know It All.” Myself, I’d have gone with this fun, funky track, my personal favorite tune from Stronger. (I also predict that, with its creative use of square roots, multiplication, and division, it will also be a new favorite for my math-‘shipping boyfriend, just as soon as he sits his bee-hind down and actually listens to this dynamite record.)