'Round the Dial: Westerberg heads to the woods
Wednesday 01 November @ 12:48:10
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “(Punk rock) is Bob Dylan to me; My story could be his songs, I’m his soldier-child.” – D. Boon (From “History Lesson, Pt. 2”)
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Fallen Down” – Epic Soundtracks
Hiya, music hounds. I’m making up for my recent broken promises this week and actually running a couple of CD reviews rather than rant on and on in my usual abrasive style. I’m sure most of you are thrilled—me, I’m sippin’ a Hot Toddy and watchin’ the first snowfall of the year cover the frosty Alaskan soil up here overlooking Kachemak Bay, so I don’t mind spending a fuzzy afternoon with some great new(er) releases. Hope ya’ll enjoy ‘em as much as I have ...
“Open Season” Soundtrack
Featuring The Songs Of Paul Westerberg
Yep, it’s another animated kiddie movie with a soundtrack written by a beloved cult figure icon (think Randy Newman minus the Lexus), but this time the robots in Hollywood have actually hired a guy whose songs have never even approximated the steadfast pabulum formula they’ve established over the past 20 years or so. At least Newman had a “Short People” behind him.
That being said, this film (featuring the instantly-recognizable voices of a bevy of current Hollywood faves) actually DOES have a great, positive message for not only children, but anybody who gives a damn if our planet survives intact as it is beyond the next 40 or 50 years. The premise is animals learning to cope with the inevitable (and foul) spread of humanity onto their natural stomping grounds and the adventures that ensue when the various characters make their (all-too-human) decisions and declare their loyalties.
And truly, for once the songs on a soundtrack album (children’s film or otherwise) FINALLY match the ambiance, the subject matter, and the advertised feel of the movie itself while at the same time standing alone as simply wonderful modern pop/rock songwriting. It’s also cool to see Paul bring back “Good Day,” a song he wrote a few years ago that for some reason always reminded me of Bob Stinson and will now (once I see the movie) probably resonate with Bambi-esque poignance. But at least a whole new audience gets another chance to hear a great Paul tune.
But hell, I haven’t even seen the flick yet. I’m just thrilled as all get-out to have a fresh collection of songs (though I guess Paul wrote about 30 new ones, and only a handful of those made the final release here) from one of my favorite hometown songwriters to help ease the pain of the oncoming winter doldrums.
Anyhow, some of the finer tunes on this collection (nary a stinker in the batch—though from what I’ve heard, Paul went through hell in Hollywood with said robots over everything from the content of his lyrics to the sound of his voice—at one point, they even had PETE YORN re-sing one of the cuts for no apparent reason I can tell, as both versions are on this CD) match anything Mr. W’s done since the late ’90s, and are definitely on the whole a cheerier batch of ditties than he’s whipped up in ages.
“Meet Me In The Meadow” is a rollicking, romantic, up-tempo romp through the fields of Paul’s personal rock ’n’ roll forest (the fact that he just spent half a decade or so with his son, Johnny, shines through on virtually EVERY track here), replete with those catchy, snappy lines Paul’s so famous for and a sweeping, epic feel that makes it a perfect soundtrack cut as well as a nifty jukebox or mix CD track.
“Love You In The Fall” is so timely it’s not funny (good job, wonks!), and reminds me of one of the more soul-stirring tracks from Paul’s post-14 Songs period; “I Belong” (this is the cut those wonks had Pete Yorn re-cut, a needless exercise in studio pomposity if you ask me, but then Paul himself, in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, no less, said about this entire project that it was like doing, “... community service after my last arrest,” so there ya go) is a beautiful, sad and memorable ballad; “Any Better Than This” bumps and bounces right outta the gate, Paul tossing out his tried-and-true smart-ass lines like, “I’m a knight in shining arm-chair ...” and “Right To Arm Bears” is as silly, danceable and downright infectiously catchy as it sounds.
“All About Me” could’ve been an outtake from any of Paul’s recent albums, but the fact that the lyrics are pointed straight at the film and its various (one would assume loveable) characters makes it particularly hard-hitting, while the gutsy, choked-up “Whisper Me Luck” is one of those tracks that makes this songwriter’s work stand out above almost anybody his age in (or close to) his career-stage as I can imagine—Paul’s a cranky, sometimes dorky curmudgeon, but he can still pull them ol’ heart-strings like a puppet master, and I for one think this kiddie movie soundtrack is as good or better than either Folker or Come Feel Me Tremble.
I should mention that there are a couple interesting cuts here from Deathray, kinda nerdy but fun keyboard-driven rockers called “I Wanna Lose Control (Uh Oh)” and “Wild As I Wanna Be,” both of which I found interesting enough to spin loudly at my weekly pub DJ gig, as well as a regular studio version of the Talking Heads’ classic “Wild Wild Life” and the aforementioned Pete Yorn’s (I don’t dislike Pete, but having him re-cut a song Paul already does on this album is kinda like sticking his version of The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” on a mix CD right next to the original—what the hell’s the point?) re-take on “I Belong,” but this album unquestionably belongs to Mr. Westerberg, and I’m satisfied he’s fully back on track with his career and writing better songs every time out.
That’s sayin’ a lot from a guy who still plays “Here Comes A Regular” once a week JUST BECAUSE I LIKE TO FEEL SAD. Good job, Paul. I not only whisper ya luck in the next phase of your career, but unabashedly SHOUT for it. You fucking deserve it, my friend. Fans and the curious can check it out at losthighwayrecords.com.
New West Records
My all-time favorite Tim Easton song is called “Out Of Your Life,” from his album The Truth About Us. It’s not only a song that resonates deeply in my musical soul because of shit I was going through when it came out—I was in the third year of a seven-year relationship that should’ve probably never started in the first place—but I succinctly recall a good friend of mine recounting a story about the song to me as he went through some of his own relationship struggles. I’d sent him a mix including that tune, and he’d just heard it after a particularly nasty disagreement with his partner at the time. The track has a line in it that, I think, probably hit us both the same time for different reasons: “... she came back / As people rarely do the thing that’s best for them ...”
I make this point before diving into this review not only because it establishes the straight-up universality of Easton’s songwriting, but I think it’s telling that the line I mentioned isn’t the catchy chorus, memorable lyrical twist, or even the title of the track—a lot of people who listen to it will more likely remember the song’s bad-ass wrap-up, as the music amps up and Easton fairly howls, “She stepped on the pedal, like it was his heart ...” as he describes the fed-up lover screeching hell-bent-for-leather out of his (or the character’s, or yours, or my) life. It’s just a line that’s so fucking TRUE, so HONEST and so REAL that to me, it’s always kind of represented the in-a-nutshell reason why I love Tim’s writing and his songs as much as I do.
Ammunition is packed full of these kind of awe-inspiring musical moments, and is another Easton album I have a feeling I’ll have had six or eight new revelations about by the time this piece hits the streets. But that’s not important—if you dig Easton, or Bob Dylan, or Steve Forbert, or Brent Best, or Patterson Hood, you’ll dig the fuck out of this record. Recorded in a variety of locations and capturing Easton’s ongoing physical and soul travels, personal and political beliefs, and ongoing life lessons in an amazingly in-the-moment style, the songs are, hands-down, the strongest material he’s written yet.
Kicking off with the blues-y (yeah, Easton is also a damn fine axe-man), shadowy lull of “Black Dog,” Ammunition almost immediately begins to fire off one on-target sure-shot after another: “Oh, People” rings out with righteous self-assurance, Easton directly taking aim at his personal politics, hangers-on and nose-led followers with lines like, “Oh people, I am not coming along with you—now, I’m not getting out of my head / And I’m not gonna run instead / There’s someone waiting for me / And there’s no safer place to be...” I’d take it as his way of saying he’ll not back down from his beliefs and convictions, yet is refusing to carry the social-political mantle that “musical savior” Dylan and his brethren cultivated back in the day. Not while he’s got a warm body waiting at home.
Other standouts here include the soft, discreet aural caress of “Next To You” and the viscerally haunting plea to a close friend with a history of attracting physical and mental abusers, “Back To The Pain,” which finds Tim (along with Lucinda Williams, who sings gorgeous backup) as lyrically astute as ever and still quite capable of producing simple-seeming lines that are so strong they’re sometimes akin to an actual, physical punch in the gut: “... you went home with the bar-back / Cuz he called you by a different name / Now you’re underneath the gun-rack / And everything’s the same again / Baby don’t you go back to the pain.”
Special guests and appropriate producers abound here (though Easton cut eight of ‘em completely solo), as well, including the aforementioned Ms. Williams, Doug Pettibone, drummer Don Heffington, Gary Louris, Tift Merritt and lauded engineer Mark Howard. All of ‘em pitch in to flesh out what is already a fabulous batch of heart-rending, soul-stirring, blue-collar rock ’n’ roll that’s uniquely universal and mysteriously ephemeral all at once.
My fave track so far today (as it changes every morning for me since I got this album) has GOT to be the hilarious/melancholy kiss-off to drugs (it doesn’t hurt that he name-drops Alaska, where I’m currently living, in the song—he’s toured here, and was also inspired to write “I Don’t Want To Come Home,” another tune about the 49th state that’s on this collection), “Dear Old Song And Dance.”
I really and truly wish I could reprint every lyric (or better yet, play the song for ya right now—but then, that’s what the New West web-site is for!) here, but some of my faves from this rollicking, from-the-hip ditty include, “I woke up today, sixty days on / And I would not even be here if I’d stuck with that same old song and dance / With the booze and pills and powders / And the bloody mary mornings ... the heroin, cocaine and morphine / Ecstasy, opium and wine / Uppers, downers, siders / And Alaskan girls will kick your ass with Northern Lights and Southern Comfort / Good weed, bad weed, hash and hot knives, tequila and cheap beer...”
Another frightfully good, whip-smart collection of singing, songwriting and musicianship from one of America’s brightest and best. Easton is bound to join those musical icons I mentioned above in the annals of Great 21st Century Songwriters—and the only reason I can figure he’s not made it bigger yet is that his songs are so REAL, the lyrics so full of TRUTH, that most hack writers and entertainment tweaks can’t bear to dig deep enough into them to bother exposing them to the public. I guess it would kinda suck to hear some of these brutally honest lines and know in your sold-out guts that it’s YOU Tim’s singing about, though, eh?
On the other hand, as long as he still has to tour his ass off just to pay the bills, there’s no worries his songs will grow lazy, out-of-touch, or irrelevant, as those of so many of his contemporaries have. If songwriters were gun-fighters, Tim Easton would be a delightfully jumbled mixture of Wyatt Earp, Frank James and The Sundance Kid; part lawman, part outlaw, part self-created, tall-tale character. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like he’ll run outta (musical) ammo anytime soon. Great album, great songs, great artist. Highly recommended. Check it out at newwestrecords.com.
That’s all the room we’ve got this week, gang. Tune in next time out for tons more, including fresh stuff from Golden Smog, Ween and Tim O’ Reagan. Until we meet again—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d like to see mentioned in this space, or you’d just like to put some yabba dabba in my doo, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com. ||