Sunday, November 09, 2003

week of Nov. 9-15

"Tom the Model" - Beth Gibbons
Funny how I had always assumed, with Portishead, that it was the background guy who was responsible for the eerie, kitschy sort of weirdness that permeated the band's music--that, in other words, singer Beth Gibbons just sort floated her distinctive voice on top of the whole crazy, beautiful thing. I'm assuming differently now. Gibbons may be just plain weird herself. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) This song is from a CD called Out of Season that was released last year in the U.K. and is out now in the U.S.; it is credited both to Gibbons and "Rustin Man," who is apparently a musician named Paul Webb (of the band Talk Talk). "Tom the Model" has in fact more Portishead-ish moments than most of the tunes on the CD, which by and large avoids that group's intense retro-soundtrack-y ambiance in favor of a quavering, downbeat sort of intimacy. I'm not sure at this point that I even like this song all that much, but in listening to it a number of times, I find I'm compelled by it nonetheless. It's a grey area that our "hot or not"-oriented culture overlooks, the idea that something may engage and reward you even if you wouldn't say it was "great" or "hot" or give it five stars or whatever. This is definitely worth a few listens to experience and absorb.

"Get Down Moses" - Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
Dubby and energy-packed, this comes from the last, posthumous release from the late, lamented Clash co-founder. I'm always struck by how musical Strummer could be at his best. There's something fetchingly insistent about this tune and it probably has a lot to do with his guileless, open-hearted voice. Even when he sung in apparent anger, Strummer could warm my spirit, somehow, just from the sound of his voice. Having this new thing come out now, when there can be no more, is rather too poignant for words.

"Juanita" - Rachel Smith
So cross Sinead O'Connor with Jane Siberry and have the result emerge from a young Canadian musician currently pursuing a master's degree at Harvard and voila!: here's Rachel Smith. This playful, quirky song completely engages me, but I'll readily admit I'm a sucker for a songwriter with an intuitive sense of how to insert odd and unexpected elements into songs. Like what's with those "ah-ah"s in the verses? And okay, I'm also a sucker for songs with accordions in them, not to mention songs with memorable opening lines--in this case, "I'm not afraid of weakness/I'm afraid of power." Any number of things here hook me in; I sense an intelligence at work here and I listen with eager ears. They sure do grow wonderful musicians up there in Canada. "Juanita" comes from Smith's debut, The Clearing, which was released in 2001. Her next album, Famous Secrets, is apparently due out soon.

"Don't Let Us Get Sick" - Jill Sobule
An inspired cover by the sharp-witted Sobule, who carries a complex mix of irony and sincerity in her voice more effectively than almost anyone I can think of--save, perhaps, the recently departed Warren Zevon, who wrote this song. This can be found on Sobule's recently released CD The Folk Years 2003-2003. (That's not a typo.) The premise here seems to be relatively stripped-down production, but it's not just all guitar and voice--check out, for instance, the cool Salvation Army-band sound towards the end of this one. This link takes you to a page with a few MP3s on it; click on the song title to download this song.

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