Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Forgot How Good It Was

Recently something possessed me to pull out Tracy Chapman's eponymous 1988 debut album. I used to play some of those songs in one of my bands in college and I remembered liking the album throughout high school and college. I listened to it this week and it was absolutely amazing. Why?

-Unlike some 95 percent of albums recorded in the 1980s it hasn't aged a day. The instrumentation, the production, the lyrics, the style - all of it could have been done at any time in the last forty years. It sounds great.

-The words are clear and have not become trite or meaningless. If anything, the words are even more relevant and meaningful now than when they were written in Reagan's '80s. The very first time we listened to it the kids were asking questions about what the singer was saying and we had some good conversations about it. (Child: "Why did he say it would do no good to call the police?" Yes, I remember not being sure if the singer was a man or a woman the first time I heard Fast Car on the radio. So right there it's expanding their consciousness and possibilities by introducing a woman who doesn't look or sound like a Disney princess. And we learn that different people have different experiences with government services.)

-Like the other contemporary Elektra label albums by Billy Bragg (Worker's Playtime) and They Might Be Giants (Flood) I hear and notice new things revealed every time I listen to it. (Good gracious, was Elektra on a super hot streak from 1988-1990 or what?)

-It has never been remastered for modern radio so it is not horribly compressed. There are truly quiet and loud parts, but not to the extent that you have to keep turning it up and down.

-The songs are catchy and I literally dreamed about them last night. Chapman is a brilliant writer of words and music and the production focuses perfectly on the hooks and the meanings and the melodies. It's basically just one of those rare, perfect albums like Ziggy Stardust or Abbey Road where everyone involved got everything just right.

Seeing as how it sold six million in the US alone, several used copies of it are available at amazon for under a dollar. What's stopping you? Be inspired.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Great GUH Show

The first Great Uncle Helmer show of the 2010 Toys For Tots drive was a big success. Thanks to everyone who came out and enjoyed it. I certainly did. (Complete set list) Highlights?

Like most songwriters and musicians in general, I most love playing new stuff that I'm really excited about. Karl's new song "Great Big Decisions" is really terrific to the extent that I'm going to set up a whole new page of just to give you the demo he sent me here for free. It was a bit sloppy but it WAS the first time we'd tried it.

Pete and Carrie Rivard were there and played on opposite sides of the room toward the back, something I'd discussed with Pete on the phone. The small room made the surround sound a very appealing option, with instruments not really requiring amplification. It was a pretty cool effect, even from where I was standing. They played Kansas City, Nebraska, Katherine's Wasteland, and Total Peace with us.

We did the prequest Ron Cey, in which I succumbed to my traditional stumble over my favorite line, the most crucial of the entire song: "Took this long to learn it's okay that the seasons turn".

Another new song was "The Wicklund Rose", one of two songs I've written recently about stuff in my backyard. I really got into it and was glad the room became quiet and seemed to pay attention. (I say seemed only because I don't know for sure. I had my eyes shut.) Karl played a great harmonica solo and some nice answer phrases on the final verse.

The official, colon-heavy "Great Uncle Helmer: Toys For Tots 2010: New Song Showcase: Memphis: I Am The Devil" featuring the debut of that song felt really great to me. I just wrote that song this week about the lies the devil tells us and it still feels immensely powerful to me.

That was one of three fairly new Memphis songs (Wicklund Rose, I Am The Devil, and Hey, Where Mah Shed Done Gone) that were influenced heavily by the Sandy Denny album Where The Time Goes and its pure, beautiful, acoustic, English folk music. Man, that is a beautiful album. I think the last album that inspired me to write three whole songs so quickly and easily was way back in 1999 with Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs. They just make it seem so easy and meaningful. (Those were One More Day, Swqeatshirt, and Please Applaud, incidentally.)

In addition to the new songs, we also resurrected The Road Goes Ever On and Palindromes. It was fun to reconnect with these songs we hadn't played in a while. Julio made its live debut as a two verse song. That was satisfying to me. And I loved having the room stomp and clap along on Car of Jonas (where the only instrument was Karl's ukelele) and Total Peace, with Bill there bootlegging it.

Was the haiku joke too subtle? We'll try it again Wednesday.

Karl pulled out his notebook and threw something out that might be called "They Were Talkin' Eva Braun" and I really enjoyed that. His official "Great Uncle Helmer: Toys For Tots 2010: New Song Showcase: Karl: I Ran My Car For President" had a lot of potential as well.

We closed with Powerful Statement, Behind the Curtain, and Illusions of Banjeur and headed out into the night. GUH enjoyed talking to $2 Bill in the freezing cold and I particularly loved the opportunity to tell the self-deprecating story of the time I called the police on a mysterious beeping. It was a great night. Thanks to everyone who came and to Fireroast Mountain Coffee. We hope to see you again Wednesday at the Grand Avenue Dunn Bros. Facebook event.