'Round the Dial: Taking back Valentine's Day
Wednesday 07 February @ 14:37:08
by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing." – Mignon McLaughlin
SONG OF THE WEEK: "16 Days" – Whiskeytown
With the annual approach of Valentine's Day, amid the hustle and bustle of starry-eyed lovers shopping, planning, dreaming, hoping and wishing, there hover millions of broken, scarred souls who dread the holiday and all of its inherent implications: that you should be a pair, or a couple, or at least on the verge of finding a kindred spirit to walk this earth with. That you'll be happier, more content, more NORMAL, if you're in (or on the verge of falling in) love, and that finding that special "someone" will solve most of, if not all of your innermost problems, soothe your aching heart and bring you ever-lasting comfort and peace once and for all.
While it's true (for the most part) that being a lover in love is a wonderful state of being, it seems during this winter-based celebration of that status that it's easy to forget not only those people who aren't bedazzled and bewitched by burning desire, but also why the heartbreak, pain and loneliness of flying solo is such an important part of the process, and understanding of, experiencing love itself. Easy to forget the bad times, the daily suffering, the dark, nearly unbearable feeling of being with someone and not experiencing the best (or sometimes, any) of the benefits of said state.
In that spirit then, 'Round The Dial presents a review of an album that just might make one more night bearable, one more empty day a bit easier to take and which offers up a welcome gust of fresh air from someone who completely and totally understands the pain.
Take it for what you will, but here's to heartbreak--that cleansing, insufferable, torturous blend of sadness and self-reflection that will ultimately bring you to either accept that sometimes it's better to be alone than to be with another and still feel alone--it'll either make you stronger and a better partner for your next flame, or teach you that being alone sometimes isn't so bad after all--learn to love yourself, for yourself, by yourself and you're halfway down the road to healing ...
Lost Highway Records
"There are only so many subjects you can write about," says Lucinda Williams in the liner notes to West, her latest (and eighth) effort. "Every song and every poem is about one of them--love, sex, death, loss, redemption." While snippety critics may quibble with that, it's essentially about as close to the truth as you're going to hear from a songwriter these days--especially a Grammy-award winning tunesmith who's been dubbed "America's best songwriter."
Lu's latest finds her baring her soul--the good, the bad and the hope she carries deep within her own heart and her poignant, life-affirming lyrics--backed by an absolutely killer line up and every single one of those subjects she mentioned in her liner notes. Since the release of her last album, the chaotic, politically-charged World Without Tears, Ms. Williams has suffered the loss of her mother and finally untangled herself from a soul-killing personal relationship. Every song here documents and dissects the innermost pain, moments of doubt and self-flagellation she's undergone through it all.
Opener "Are You Alright" is one of a pair of soft, soothing ballads reminiscent of her Sweet Old World period, a teasing, longing slice of loneliness that sets the stage for the coming storm of the next 10 tracks. The heart-rending "Mama You Sweet" doubles as a love-gone-wrong song as well as a tearful, respectful ode to her late mother, and touches on the devastation of loss more acutely than anything she's done since the title cut of the aforementioned album.
"Learning How to Live," "Everything Has Changed" and "Where Is My Love" are all bittersweet, barroom blazers; they shimmer and burn low like a light left on for a lost lover, Lu pouring out her pitcher of blues and passing the glasses down the line. Her strongest points have always been her ability to mold her personal feelings with universal sentiment and her open-minded, almost childlike quest for knowledge--whether about love, politics, social dysfunction or life and death itself, and here that shines brighter and with more passion than it has over a whole album in several years.
But don't take West as an album full of weepers, moaners and oh-woe-is-me's, either. Lu bites back at her objects of disdain and sorrow with all the swiftness and natural instinct of a mother mountain lioness--as evidenced by cuts like "Fancy Funeral," a dusty, ancient warning about the dangers of the material world: "'Cause no amount of riches / Can bring back what you've lost / To satisfy your wishes / You'll never justify the cost ..."
"Rescue" sensitively approaches the subjects of independence and enabling, with pure, unassailable truth--another person can't protect, change, save or fix you; you have to undertake that journey alone, steadfast in self-belief. "What If," the album's sole overt political/social commentary, poses questions like "What it would mean / If the president wore pink/Or a prostitute was a queen ... if dogs became kings / And the pope chewed gum / And hobos had wings / And God was a bum ..."
"Words" is simultaneously dazzlingly despairing and jam-packed with fierce pride and inner surety--and so overwhelmingly powerful that the song literally drove me to my knees and filled my eyes with salty wet rivulets--Lucinda's deceptively calm delivery (backed with an accordion) offset only by viciously smart, majestic lyrics and a lulling guitar riff. Album closer "West" is a nugget of hope that shines like the last color in the creek, and finds Lu setting her sights on a brighter future and a fresh start.
But the coups de grace here have to be the pair of devilishly delicious slams she takes at her ex-lover: the growling, razor-sharp blast of "Come On," wherein she verbally destroys her former flame with lines like, "Dude, I'm so over you / You didn't even have a clue / All you did was make me blue / You didn't even make me, come on!" and the 9-plus minute rumination/rebuke "Wrap My Head Around That," which is full of killer lines ("And you're just all up in it / Look out, your zipper's gonna break / And out pops your LITTLE party favor / And you just take the cake ...") and finds the band at their most powerful.
Hands down, West is Lucinda's finest, most cohesive collection of songs since Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, replete with special guests like Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), guitarists Bill Frisell and Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan), a dab of sampling and a smoldering, succulent selection of some of the finest songwriting this generation's ever going to hear. Highly recommended listening. Go to losthighwayrecords.com. Release date: 2/13/07.
That's it for this time out, gang. May your Valentine's Day be filled with feeling--happy or sad, good or bad--pain, like love, reminds you that you're still alive inside. Special thanks to Jim Walsh for all the music, words, thoughts, wisdom, and love over the years--I'm hoisting a pint to you tonight, bud. Tune in again next time for some great new local stuff and 'til then--make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/CDs/gigs you'd like to see mentioned in this column, or you'd just like to rant at the ranter, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com. ||