Thursday, April 1, 2021

March 2021 Song of the Day

 OK, this is more like it. I'm getting to the March 2021 Song of the Day, and it's only April 1. This is partially because I'm more caught up on my work than I have been in a while, and also because we have a clear enough winner this month that I'm confident that there won't be any late voting that will overturn the result.

Once again, for new readers, this blog entry refers to the monthly Song of the Day list on the Sputnik Music website. Each month, one user hosts the list and names a theme. Everyone then recommends songs in line with this theme, and people rate the various song recommendations. The list of March songs can be found at Sputnik Music Song of the Day - March 2021.

1. I was the host for this month, and got to pick the theme. The theme I went with was Songs about the Weather. Rain, snow, sunshine, hurricanes, blizzards, if it was anything related to the weather, it was eligible to be rec'd.

2. Once again, we had great participation, so thirty-one different Users got one rec apiece. I could have gone a number of ways on my rec. I considered picking local Staten Island band Bluish's "One of Eight". I love that song to pieces. But it's 11:17 long, and I know this crowd well enough to know that they would have hammered Anthony Bilotti's emo-style vocals, especially in that long a song, so I reluctantly passed. I also considered Garbage's "I'm Only Happy When It Rains," which I thought would probably get me the highest score of all the songs I was considering. In the end, I compromised, and went with Paramore's "When It Rains", which I knew wouldn't win the month but would at least be treated respectfully. (Mostly.) I was pretty much right about this, as the track garnered a respectable 3.235 average (out of 5). Paramore - When It Rains

3. I thought it was a decent month songwise, although my own personal rating was a little lower for March than it had been for February (2.95 vs. 3.05). My highest score for the month went to the progressive metal band Neurosis for the title track of their 2004 LP The Eye of Every Storm. Neurosis - The Eye of Every Storm

4. However, the highest average score from the group (and the track that won the month) was the one we all listened to on March 1, "On Teasing" by New York City-based singer/songwriter Nina Nastasia. I had no problem with this, as I gave it a pretty high score myself. Nina Nastasia - On Teasing

5. And happily, all of the songs were once again available on YouTube (although the Jesu song for March 19 is only available on YouTube as part of the full EP. So while the link for the list starts at that song, there's a song or two afterwards you can just skip over to move on to the Slayer song for the 20th. Or, you can also find that song individually on the bandcamp website.) March 2021 Song of the Day YouTube Playlist

That's all there is for March. So I'll see you all back here next month, OK. (And hopefully, I'll have my write-up on The Smiths posted here within the next week or so as well.) Bye!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Review of Blackmore's Night's "Nature's Light"

 I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: "Wish you were here/Me, oh, my country man/Wish you were here."

Blackmore's Night is back with their eleventh studio LP (their first in six years), and I, for one, am glad to hear from them. Ritchie Blackmore, of course, is a rock guitar legend, best known for his days with Deep Purple and Blackmore's Rainbow. For the last almost-quarter of a century, though, he and his wife Candice Night, have been making folk and Renaissance music together, and have established an audience of their own throughout the world, particularly in Germany and Japan. They recorded Nature's Light in 2019 for a planned release in April of 2020. Then COVID happened, and, well, you know how that goes. In any event, the album has finally been released by Edel Records, the German label that released their first two LPs back in the late 1990s. So I guess things have come full circle.

My overall impression is that yes, this is definitely a Blackmore's Night album. Which is to say that if you liked the first ten Blackmore's Night LPs, you're going to like this one as well. They're not really breaking any new ground here, which I guess isn't surprising, given that Blackmore is now 75 years old. (Candice is considerably younger.) And I wouldn't say this is one of the band's very best albums. Nevertheless, Nature's Light is a solid effort, and one that I find has grown on me the more I've listened to it.

Blackmore and Night seem to have played most of the instruments between them here, with Ritchie handling the various stringed apparatuses, Night playing the woodwinds and tambourine, and David Baranowski (aka Bard David of Larchmont) adding the keyboards. Night, as always, sang all of the lead vocals, and some of the harmonies as well, with other backing vocals contributed by Bard David and Blackmore and Night's two children, Autumn and Rory Blackmore.

The songs on this LP provide a nice mix of styles. The title track is something of a royal processional theme, while other tracks mix folk and folk rock, blues rock, medieval and renaissance folk, and even Slavic-sounding folk. There are two (basically) instrumental tracks: "Darker Shade of Black" (which sounds like a tribute to Procol Harum's "Repent Walpurgis"), and "Der Ietzke Muskatier", a more blues-oriented track. These are the two songs where Blackmore cuts loose a bit with some electric guitar. There are also two covers: "Second Element", which is a cover of a song that Sarah Brightman recorded on her 1993 Dive album; and "Wish You Were Here", a cover of a track by Swedish pop country band Rednex that Blackmore's Night first recorded on their initial LP, 1997's Shadow of the Moon. ("Wish You Were Here" has become one of the most beloved and requested songs over the years at their live shows).

As usual, Night's vocals are impeccable throughout -- I can really never say enough about how beautiful and pure her voice is. (And having seen her live many times over the years, I can promise you it doesn't sound that way because of studio trickery. Her voice is just as lovely and consistent in concert.)

So, like an old friend, Blackmore's Night is back. And to me, it feels like they've never really been away.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Saturday, March 13, 2021

February 2021 Song of the Day

 It's been a brutal month so far. So it's March 13, and I'm just getting around to February's SOTD. Sorry about that. Anyway, here we go.

For new readers, this blog entry refers to the monthly Song of the Day list on the Sputnik Music website. Each month, one user hosts the list and names a theme. Everyone then recommends songs in line with this theme, and people rate the various song recommendations. The list of February songs can be found at Sputnik Music Song of the Day - February 2021.

1. The theme for the month was non-romantic love songs. It encompassed platonic love, familial love, unconventional love, love that didn't work out, etc.

2. We had another month of full participation, which was nice. So everybody got to pick one song. My choice for the month was one that I got from Denise. She's always been a big Thomas Dolby fan, and sometime after we first met, she exposed me to this one, which I found both sad and beautiful. My rec was his song "I Love You Goodbye." It didn't win the month, but it was pretty well received. Thomas Dolby - I Love You Goodbye.

3. I enjoyed the month pretty well - my average score was 3.05 out of 5, and that included a rec that sounded like a 12-minute-long bowel movement that I scored a zero. (Don't ask.) My highest score for the month went to my favorite song by The Cure, which someone was kind enough to recommend: "Just Like Heaven". The Cure - Just Like Heaven.

4. The highest average score from the group in general went to a track called "Train Song" by the British folk artist Vashti Bunyon. I thought it was a little bland, but OK. Vashti Bunyon - Train Song.

5. Once again, all of the songs recommended were available on YouTube. So I've wrapped it all up for you with a pretty ribbon. (Well, OK, there's not really a ribbon, but here's your damn playlist!) You can find it on February 2021 Song of the Day YouTube Playlist.

Anyway, that's my list, and I'm sticking to it. Y'all come back now, you hear?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

R.I.P. Ramona Spooney

 Although I don't have any details about it, I found out tonight that Ramona Spooney, known around these parts for her long musical partnership with Frank Walker as the duo called SpoonWalk, has passed away.

Denise and I are immensely are sad to hear this. We spent so many nights, at the Pisces Cafe and various other venues, enjoying SpoonWalk's music. Ramona was a lady with a big, beautiful voice and an equally big heart.

Rest in peace, Ramona. Heaven will be a better place with you in it.

SpoonWalk - Every Us 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

January 2021 Song of the Day

 Yeah, I know, I'm a lazy sod -- this is two months in a row of not getting the previous month's Song of the Day results published until the 9th of the next month. What can I say? Sue me. Besides, this month, I had a little bit of an excuse for being somewhat late at least. The month was exceptionally close -- I had to give people a chance to get their scores in to be sure who the winner was.

Anyway, we do have a winner now. So without the further ado, here's the usual yadda yadda yadda.

For new readers, this blog entry refers to the monthly Song of the Day list on the Sputnik Music website. Each month, one user hosts the list and names a theme. Everyone then recommends songs in line with this theme, and people rate the various song recommendations. The list of January songs can be found at Sputnik Music Song of the Day - January 2021.

1. The theme for the month was Songs that Make You Euphoric. 

2. The month filled out nicely - we had a lot of participation for whatever reason. (Maybe people just really liked the theme.) So I once again limited myself to a single rec. My choice for the month was a song that always brings joy to my heart, "Life Is a Long Song" by Jethro Tull. The song was pretty well received by the group in general, and for a little while, it was even in contention for the #1 spot (although by later in the month, it was clear that it was no longer a contender.) Jethro Tull - Life Is A Long Song

3. It was actually a pretty good month, by my standards - my average score was 3.06 out of 5. But my highest score for the month was "Chat Room" by local New York band Charly Bliss, from the album that was my pick for 2019 Album of the Year Young EnoughCharly Bliss - Chat Room

4. However, the song the group rated highest is one I wasn't that big on, "Bread Crumb Trail" by Slint. (This is the second time a song from this band has done really well with the SOTD crowd, and I have to admit I don't get the appeal. But oh well ... it is what it is. Slint - Bread Crumb Trail

5. All of this month's songs were available on YouTube, so as usual, I wrapped it up all nice and pretty in a YouTube playlist for you. You can find it at January 2021 Song of the Day YouTube Playlist.

So, 2021 is now officially off and running. Stay safe, everybody.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Favorite Artists, Part 12: About Eurythmics

 The duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, aka Eurythmics, was one of the more popular groups of the eighties. Their musical output consisted of eight studio albums released between 1981 and 1989, plus a reunion LP produced a decade later. However, much like Joni Mitchell, this is one of those artists who earned their way onto this My Favorite Artists list mostly due to their output in one particular period of their career, in this case a tightly focused one, from early 1983 through the end of 1984.

Lennox and Stewart first achieved a measure of success together in a British band called The Tourists. Stewart and a fellow named Peet Coombes were playing together when they first met Lennox, who was working as a waitress in a London restaurant at the time. Stewart and Lennox quickly became a couple, and the trio formed a punk rock band called The Catch in 1976. They were signed to a small label and released one single, but it never went anywhere.

Later in 1976, the trio added two more members and transitioned into the pop rock outfit called The Tourists, with Coombes and Lennox splitting lead vocal duties. They had limited success, with a cover of the "I Only Want to Be With You" (which had been popularized in 1963 by Dusty Springfield) reaching #4 on the British charts and achieving Gold Record status in the process, and another single, "So Good to Be Back Home Again," hitting #8. The Tourists, however, were mostly Coombes' creative project, so Stewart and Lennox decided to split off on their own.

The duo did this because they really wanted the opportunity to experiment more with electronic and avant-garde music. By the time they had released their first LP, In the Garden, in 1981, they were no longer romantically involved. The album mixed psychedelic, krautrock influences, and charted (barely) with one single, "Never Gonna Cry Again," but it wasn't successful.

Their second album was a monster, however. After surviving a period that saw Lennox recover from at least one mental breakdown and Stewart recover from a collapsed lung, the duo released their second album. Powered by a title track that reached #1 on the American charts, #2 on the British charts and scored tons of airplay on the popular music channel MTV, 1983's Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) put Eurythmics on the map. 

This was also when they caught my attention. At some point in 1983, it was apparent that many of my old musical heroes were either dead or on their way out. Keith Moon was literally dead, and The Who had just released a much-maligned album (It's Hard) that would be their last for almost a quarter of a century. Jethro Tull was in the middle of an electronic period that I liked, but most music fans hated. Pink Floyd had just released the truly godawful The Final Cut. And Joni had fallen into a black pool of jazz from which she would never return. Even though Yes had just reinvented themselves into more of an '80s pop rock band, it was obvious I was going to need some new bands to follow.

I asked myself which bands had the potential to put together solid enough careers to lead music through the 1980s the way that Tull, The Who, Floyd et al had through the '70s. And being an obsessive-compulsive nutjob, I made myself a list. (Which I guess was an early precursor to this Favorite Artists list I'm working from now.) 

Being a lover of prog rock, I started there. (At that time, even though the punk movement had blistered most progressive rock bands until they were considered severely dated at best, and laughing stocks at worst, I couldn't conceive that it would become almost a dead art form until the birth of progressive metal several decades later.) So the first name on my list was "Asia." 

Yeah, I get from the hindsight of 40 years later that this was a bad call. But that first Asia album was pretty damned good, and I don't remember if I had listened to the disappointing followup Alpha yet. If I had, I probably just thought it was a sophomore slump. I had no way of knowing that most of the rest of their discography would range from mediocre to garbage. (Although to their credit, they did actually manage to have a pretty long career that would take them through 13 studio albums, the last being released in 2014. So it could have been worse.)

My list continued. A Flock of Seagulls. They had just released Listen, giving them two solid albums, and 1984's The Story of a Young Heart would give them a third, before guitarist Paul Reynolds would leave the band and they'd soil themselves completely with 1986's A Dream Come True. Dexy's Midnight Runners. I had to add some Celtic Rock in there, and 1982's Too-Rye-Ay had been an amazing LP. (It was, alas, also the clear highlight of a career that would only span a total of five studio albums.) The melodic rock band Quarterflash. Their eponymous 1981 debut featured some excellent sax-based rock, and I maintain to this day that 1983's Take Another Picture was a cut above just being solid. And Eurythmics. 

OK, so Nostradamus I'm not, give me a break. I had no way of knowing that the whole music industry would change so much in the '80s that it was really only U2 and maybe a handful of others that had the kind of decade-spanning careers that '70s bands like Zeppelin, The Who and Pink Floyd would have. (I added Echo and The Bunnymen to my list a few months later. But after four solid albums concluding with 1984's Ocean Rain, they also had a drop-off in quality thereafter, even though they managed to release a dozen studio LPs in their career.)

So anyway, Eurythmics was the only one of my Bands of the Future band list that make this Favorite Artists list four decades later. How did they get here?

Well, as I said in the beginning, it was really mostly on the back of the Sweet Dreams album released early in 1983, the possibly-even-better Touch album released at the end of 1983 (this was a band who knew damned well they needed to strike while the fire, and they, were hot), and to a lesser extent the 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) soundtrack album (that went mostly unused for the John Hurt Nineteen Eighty-Four film. There was a whole legal battle surrounding it that I'm not going to get into here.)

After that, largely due to Annie's wishes I think, Eurythmics moved into more an R&B-influenced direction that I didn't really care for. 1985's Be Yourself Tonight had a number of successful singles, including "Would I Lie to You" and Annie's duet with Aretha Franklin, "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves," both of which I found to be kind of harsh. But the only song I really loved from that LP was "There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)".

I liked 1986's Revenge LP a little better, especially "Thorn in My Side". But the truth is, given the choice between this album and the more hypnotic In the Garden, I prefer In the Garden.

By 1987's Savage, Eurythmics was mostly out of ideas (or good ones, anyway), as exemplified by the LP's bizarre initial-release single "Beethoven". And 1989's We Too Are One and 1999's Peace were fairly middle-of-the-road affairs (although I did like the latter album's nostalgic "17 Again".)

So what was it about Sweet Dreams, Touch and 1984 that powered Eurythmics into being named one of my Favorite Artists of All Time? Well ... just about everything! I love Stewart's electronic stylings, as heard on tracks like "Sweet Dreams," "Here Comes the Rain Again" and "Julia". I love the darkness of songs like "Sweet Dreams", "This City Never Sleeps" and "No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts". I love the experimentation of efforts like "Doubleplusgood" and "Paint a Rumour". And I love the pop hooks of releases like "Who's That Girl" and "Right By Your Side". The truth is, both Sweet Dreams and Touch are nearly perfect albums. And while 1984 isn't as consistent as those two, its highlights, at least, match them.

I'd also have to add that both Lennox and Stewart have had strong post-Eurythmics careers. Stewart has released a number of solo albums (which I haven't listened to), and has collaborated with dozens of artists that I like. (I especially enjoyed some of his work with Stevie Nicks). Lennox, of course, released a number of fine solo LPs, which have included singles like "Walking on Broken Glass", "No More I Love You's" and "Why". She also sang on the sublime track "Into the West" that closed out the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

And oh yeah, there's one other thing that helped to place Eurythmics onto the My Favorite Artists list. In the summer of 1983, during the Touch tour, Eurythmics played an outdoor live show at the old Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York. The show also featured M+M (previously known as Martha and the Muffins) and Howard Jones (playing with just him and a mime) as the opening acts. And it might have been my favorite live concert of all time.

It rained off and on throughout the night. Jones (and his mime), playing as the second act through almost solid rain throughout, were excellent. M+M were even better, enough so that I listened to the scratchy cassette recording I made of this show for years thereafter, until I finally wore out the tape. And Annie and Dave were just amazing. They played with a full band, a duet of female backup singers (who were so top flight that there was even a moment during "No Fear, No Hate ..." were Annie was big enough to step back and let one of them practically steal the show). And I couldn't even tell you how many costume (and wig) changes Annie made throughout the show. I do remember that at one point, she was carried out onto the stage like Cleopatra by six shirtless muscle men.

And there was something else weird that happened that night. I think I was sitting right behind my future wife. Although Denise and I didn't formally meet until 1993, we later figured out that we had attended a number of the same concerts over the years, including this one. And I have a memory (it might or might not be real) that I was seated in the row behind her and the rest of her friends from The Slant, and that at one point, they offered me some of their food. I know that memory can be a tricky thing, but when we were at The B-52's/Culture Club show in Forest Hills a couple of years ago, and we pointed to where we were each seated all those decades earlier in relation to the stage, we both remember sitting in approximately the same area of the stadium. So yeah, I really think we met for the first time that night (however briefly), and that it was the cosmos way of telling us we were supposed to be together (and it was going to keep putting us in the same place together until we finally got it right.)

So yeah -- on the strength of those three albums, that concert, and the various other stray singles of theirs I've enjoyed over the years, Eurythmics has earned their place on the list of My Favorite Artists of All Time.

Next up in this series: A band I never even set ears on until they were already broken up - The Smiths!

Saturday, January 9, 2021

December 2020 Song of the Day

I know I'm running a little late this month, but better late than never. (Is it, though?) Anyway, here I am with the December 2020 Song of the Day.

For new readers, this blog entry refers to the monthly Song of the Day list on the Sputnik Music website. Each month, one user hosts the list and names a theme. Everyone then recommends songs in line with this theme, and people rate the various song recommendations. The list of December songs can be found at Sputnik Music Song of the Day - December 2020.

1. There was a dual theme for the month - songs that make you feel cold, or songs not in the English language. (And for this last one, instrumentals qualified as well as songs in other languages.)

2. Because I glommed three picks last month, I contented myself with one this month: "Come As You Are" by Santana. (Yes, I cheated a little, because they sing the words "Just come as you are" in the chorus, but the whole rest of the song is in Spanish.) Most of these tasteless bastards hated it, but you can lead a horse to water and all that. Santana - Come As You Are

3. I didn't really love a lot of songs this month; my average score was only 2.83 out of 5. But one song I really did like, and the song I rated the highest was "Glaedur" by the indie Icelandic electro folk artist Asgeir. It's kind of quiet and exotic. Asgeir - Glaedur

4. However, the group as a whole crowned a song sung in Old Icelandic as the winner of the month: None other than "Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa" (say that three times fast) by the venerated post-rock ambient band Sigur Ros. Sigur Ros - Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa". (I fucking hate foreign language months! I like the music, but do you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to spell these words?)

5. This was another one of those months where we had 32 songs for the month, because we can't count. I mean, because there was a bonus rec at the end of the month. This month, all 32 songs were available on the communist lapdog website YouTube, so here is the month's playlist: December 2020 Song of the Day YouTube Playlist.

Well, wishing everyone the best 2021 possible. I'm dubious myself, but we'll see.