10. Dar Williams--"Empire" (from My Better Self, Razor & Tie Records, 2005): Ms. Williams had fallen off my radar until I recently started searching for stuff for her birthday to air on my radio show. She was a big deal when I arrived at KAOS 20 years back, as she performed live on the station's folk show and opened for Joan Baez here in Oly town. What a lyricist, for starters. "Empire," is about a bullying country that sounds all-too-familiar: "And we'll kill the terror who rises/and a million of their races/but when our people torture you/that's a few random cases." She renders these lines with traces of her typically playful singing, removing the preachiness that others might have fallen into. Holy Phil Ochs!
9. Wouldn't you like to hear a classic rock station play Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker"
after "Living Loving Maid" just once, rather than the opposite? Do they have to be so pat and formatted? I recall a new music show on Detroit Public Radio in the '80s that aired a couple of hours of the Comsat Angels, Japan and Joy Division before tossing in the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," a huge surprise. Perhaps radio's never really been that good and I remember only the creative parts in my long listening tenure. We're so used to hearing a formula that maybe a little switchup sounds cooler than it actually is.
8. At the library, April 2015: One of our regular patrons says to me, "Get a haircut!"
Pretty funny, but only because I know him. I've been dying to get one for ages, as my hair is in my face these days--finally getting it done later this week. Hey ho! My membership in the Ramones is ending.
7. This Is the Sonics (Re:Vox Records, 2015): Absolutely roaring, the timeless Tacoma group puts other '60s remnants to shame as this new set is full of fury. Produced by Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders in Detroit (he did the early White Stripes stuff), I'd like to know how Gerry Roslie, now age 70, can scream like that, five decades after the Sonics' raw, early records, which defined the term "in the red." The production on This Is the Sonics is near-perfect and the performances are white-hot. One question, though: Where are the songwriting credits on the package?
6. On the road, April 2015: If you've ever been to Olympia, you know how hard it is to merge at Exit 101 on I-5, heading towards Tacoma/Seattle. Gina & I are extremely lucky to be around, as some awful driver decided to move over one lane in addition to what is already a really tricky merge. I managed to slow down and turn out of my lane to avoid that idiot. If the lane to my left hadn't been empty, there surely would have been a car door through my ribs, or worse.
5. Ringo Starr in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, 2015: It was exciting to see ol' Richy get inducted. Ringo's addition to the Beatles in 1962 cannot be overestimated, as he kicked the then-floundering band into overdrive. The Beatles' Live! at the Star-Club, Hamburg, Germany; 1962 album was greeted with awful reviews when it was released in 1977, mostly centering around the subpar sound quality and how the Fabs' vocals were shoved into the background. But in spite of the sloppiness, I still play it often; this record gave the world the unique opportunity to hear the boys' pre-world fame days and Ringo's steady to manic drumming--he is clearly at a propulsive high point here. Oh yeah, and after that, he started playing on one amazing studio recording after another.
4. Percy Sledge (1940-2105): Sledge sang some of the most heartfelt soul ballads--"It Tears Me Up" and "Take Time to Know Her," to name two. Then there's his still-glorious passion on "When a Man Loves a Woman"--has a white drummer (Roger Hawkins) ever played with more force and swing? Hawkins was the true counterpart to what Al Jackson, Jr. was doing with Booker T. & the MGs and Otis Redding. As for Percy--who was given a shamefully sketchy introduction by Rod Stewart when Sledge was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame--I am going to really miss that expressive, aching voice.
3. Promised Land (Universal Pictures, 2012): Not really a film about the horrors of fracking as much as a human study in shades of grey. If you had the idea that this movie would be didactic in nature, it's not true. The screenplay, by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who star as rivals when a corporate energy company comes to a small town to win over the residents and get them to sign onto a life-changing agreement, is brilliant. Gus Van Sant turns in a directing job on par with Milk, perhaps his ultimate achievement, and there are terrific performances by Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook, who was 88 when this was filmed. No one's character is assassinated in Promised Land--there ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, as the song goes, and that's what makes it so powerful.
2. The Shy--"We All Go Back" (via www.reverbnation.com, 2015): The sensational Michigan trio has been releasing music since 1983 and this is among the finest tracks they've ever done. Like the best rock and pop music , the words and music are inseparable, well-crafted but not overbaked. "Things get better, man--they just do somehow," sings Larry Decker, with the wisdom to know that many hurtful situations from our youth are just part of growing pains. And there's that flash in the pan, too, where "the girls would see me like some Johnny Depp/but in just a matter of time, I'd be the same old schlep." Touching (the accordion sound tugs at the emotions while Mike Sackey's drumming is kinetic and wonderful) and with wry humor.
1. At the library, April 20th: A curly-haired little girl, perhaps three, was in my area and with a big smile, handed me her slip-on tennis shoe, which had fallen off. It was a nice blast from the past for me to put it back on for her. How long had it been since I've done that...20 years? My heart could use more moments like that one.