Songs of the Week
August-December 2004

December 27, 2004   

With God on Our Side
Buddy Miller
From the September 2004 New West Records album "Universal United House of Prayer"
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As anyone who's perused this site -- or my music collection -- well knows, I'm a sucker for a good cover -- particularly a Dylan cover -- or a good piece of agitprop, and this countrified take on Zimmy's 1962 chestnut (which he still regularly performs in concert) works on both counts; an angry blast of condemnation aimed at those masters of war who claim to speak for -- or to -- The Almighty. It's made all the more potent by Miller's measured, stately pace and his world-weary drawl-and-holler vocal approach, propelled along by the slowly building backdrop of martial drums gradually increasing in volume like an approaching army. Sure, it may be an obvious and predictable treatment, but there's no denying its effectiveness (despite its nine-minute plus running time!). And those who dismiss this as simply more Bush-bashing really are missing the point -- the song was written more than forty fucking years ago! Happy New Year.

December 20, 2004   

Lonely Without You (This Christmas)
Mick Jagger and Joss Stone
From the October 2004 Virgin Records album "Alfie"
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A small but extremely tasty piece of pure pop cheesecake, just in time for the holidays, pulled from the "Alfie" soundtrack of all places (and how appropriate is it for Mick -- with a push from ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart -- to write and score almost all the songs for a film about an aging lech?). Some low-key guitar and vocal canoodling, then Jagger takes the lead, offering a ballsy but subdued take on what at first seems like just another Blue Christmas variation, with the young gun Stone politely oohing and cooing in the background, but then she takes the lead and unwraps that holy holler of hers and all bets are off, raising the rafters and goading Mick, the old goat, to show this young whippersnapper he's still got plenty of mojo, himself. They swap vocal lines like French kisses, building up considerable heat, and then suddenly, just when things are getting good and steamy, it's over, leaving us squirming and yearning for more. A full-tilt, full-length version might just get an X-rating. Maybe next Christmas...

December 13, 2004   

Kasey Chambers

A quivering "please don't hurt me again" wreck of a voice adds considerable punch to this ode to the lies we tell each other and the dreams of others we crush in pursuit of our own, as the narrator unfurls her flag of freedom and issues her own declaration of independance: "This is not Hollywood -- this is my life!"

December 6, 2004   
November 29, 2004   

Wake Up Call
Peter Case
From the September 2004 Vanguard album "Who's Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile?"
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While Paul Westerberg doggedly pursues his own solo career, thankyouverymuch, ex-Plimsouler Case conjures up the yelping ghosts of the Replacements with this snotty acoustic-driven shout-out to, uh, Saddam Hussein? George Bush? Both of them? The song's definitely pointing fingers, but at whom? Cryptic lines like "You lay your bets on war and suicide/Either way you'll need a place to hide/Big ideas and a spider hole/Where you can keep all of the lives you stole" and " Roomfuls of laughter, chit chat on your lips/You twist the qustions ‘til the answer quits/Say you can’t please ‘em and you never will/ They’ll ask forever ‘bout the ones you kill" could go either way, while "Have a nice trip, see you this Fall" certainly suggests a Presidential comeuppance that never quite came up -- the song was written and released before the November 2nd American election.

ETC.: "Wake Up Call" is one of three new tracks tossed onto "Best of" collection that traces Case's career over the last ten years or so.

November 22, 2004   

Cinammon Park
Jill Sobule

With her breathless, little girl voice and warm nostalgia...

November 15, 2004   

Keep Me in Your Heart
Jorge Calderon and Jennifer Warnes
From the October 2004 Artemis album "Enjoy Every Sandwich"
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While there are plenty of treasures (but, alas, few surprises) on this obligatory star-studded tribute, this set-closing cut by Calderon, Zevon's long-time bloodbrother and comrade-in-arms, is something special -- ringing with something a little more than self-conscious mourning or simple commercial opportunism. Calderon has a tentative, fragile voice that's occasionally eerily similar to Zevon's, suggesting perhaps a voice from the Great Beyond, and Jennifer Warnes lends a helping hand, adding to the celestialness of it all with tender hand Earth Angel sha-la-la-la harmonies. This was one of the last songs Zevon ever recorded, a dying man's simple plea to his loved ones not to forget him too soon, and this heartfelt cover does the man and the song justice. il miglior fabbro

November 8, 2004   
From the November 2004 Interscope album "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"

Hello? Hello? Remember when these guys used to rock? Well, they're BACK.

Not content with saving the world, hobnobbing with holy men and politicians and walking on water, Bono and Co. edge their bets by dumbing down ("one, two, three, fourteen"?) and serving up their trashiest, flashiest bit of ballsy guitar crunch in years -- short, punchy and iPod-ready. Easily their most rawkin' (and mindlessly fun) tune since Rattle and Hum's Desire.

November 1, 2004   
There She Goes/My Beautiful World
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
From the October 2004 Anti album "Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus"
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Pulled from Cave's two-fisted double CD set, this tortured plea to the gods of creativity is hidden under a passionate, fist-pumping, pew-rattling gospel workout. A darkly uplifting triumph against the eternal hell of writer's block, Father Nick makes like a damned Van the Man, preaching the gospel of both celestial and artistic salvation and makes it all seem good, even while the hellhounds nip at his heels. The slow burn build-ups considerable churchly heat, thanks to some rollicking call-and-reponse and old-time piano pounding, suggesting that Love -- or at least Art -- will ultimately lift you higher and higher. "Send that stuff on down to me."

October 25, 2004   
Come to Jesus
Mindy Smith
From the 2004 Vanguard Records album "One Moment More"
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This world-weary tale of maternal advice and call to salvation may recall such alt country/Americna goddesses as Maria McKee or Patty Griffin, but Smith is an original, a talent well worth keeping your eye on. Her voice has a timeless, haunting quality and her warm, earthy lyrics bring a generous and welcoming spiritual depth to her songs that far too much "Christian" music confuses with finger-pointing smugness or self-righteous banality. When Smith beckons her child to come to Jesus even non-believers will consider letting Him hold them in His arms, at least for four minutes and fourteen seconds.

October 18, 2004   
Life Less Ordinary
Carbon Leaf
From the July 2004 Vanguard Records album "Indian Summer"
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Maybe it's Celtic folk hangover from last week's pick-to-click, but this strummy come-on from the straight outta Richmond, Virginia band hits the spot in a way that really shouldn't work -- but does. The words, full of my-ain't-I-poetic rhyming dictionary cleverness and possibly Guinness-fueled 4 a.m. last-call boasting fumble and tumble and barely manage to avoid tripping over each other, yet somehow singer-songwriter Terry Clark pulls it off, and you can't help but feel that he won't be leaving the pub alone tonight.

October 11, 2004   
This Land Is Mine
The Browne Sisters and George Cavanaugh
From the 2004 Wooden Ships album "Ready for the Storm"
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True Confession: I'm actually married to one of the Browne Sisters, but it's not the missus but sis-in-law Pam who steals the show here. This cover of British songbird Dido's feminist anthem of self-determination and call for simple R-E-S-P-E-C-T strips away all of Dido's post-this-and-post-that affectations and reveals an earnest folky heart. The acoustic guitars and etheral harmonies never quite bely the powerful message, a clever revamp of Woody Guthrie. And whether Pam, Laurie or Diane know it or not -- and I know for a fact neither Dust Bowl Ballads or Lady Soul is in any of their music collections, much less Never Mind the Bollocks -- they mean it man.

October 4, 2004   

Day After Tomorrow
Tom Waits

From the October 2004 Epitath album "Real Gone"
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Divorced from the raw sonic mind-fuck of its mother album, Real Gone, this slow, nuanced performance with its muted plaintitive vocal, sparse acoustic piano and poignant lyrics is about as down to earth as Waits has sounded in years, a stone-cold weeper/keeper that's as timely as it is timeless. A soldier's simple heartfelt prayer that he'll make it home alive to Rockford, Illinois and the mundane pleasures of "shoveling snow and raking leaves." What makes this teary ballad so wrenchingly effective is Waits' eye for everyday detail, while refusing to be drawn into political specifics, although most people won't need a weatherman to know which way this wind is blowing. Just in time for November 2.

September 27, 2004   

Deja Vu All Over Again
John Fogerty
From the September 2004 Geffen Records album "Deja Vu All Over Again"
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Try as he might, Fogerty can't quite shake the ghosts of Creedence Clearwater Revival or Vietnam. But who cares when the results are this potent? The weary resignation he brings to this bittersweet lament and stinging indictment of the "War Against Terrorism" is heartbreaking, even if it does bear more than a (possibly intentional) passing similarity to "Who'll Stop the Rain." No fiery, scenery-chewing Michael Moore fingerpointing or political grandstanding -- just plain spoken pain and frustration that it seems to be all happening again. Fogerty's already seen that rain once, and the pure despair in his voice as he acknowledges that nobody seems interested in ever really stopping it (or even knows how) this time around is simply haunting. Maybe what we really need is a Creedence Clearwater Revival Revival.

Lousy cover for the album, though...

September 20, 2004   

Here We Go Again
Ray Charles and Norah Jones
From the August 2004 Concord Records album "Genius Loves Company"
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Not Brother Ray's greatest moment, perhaps, but this final album (not counting the flood of compilations and collections of what will no doubt be increasingly dubious newly discovered "treasures" that will soon be released), a collection of duets, is a solid farewell that shows just how generous he could be to other performers. Here he goads sometime-Vanilla Queen Jones into actually sounding involved, in this sweetly swinging country weeper about doomed love that wouldn't have been out of place on his classic Modern Sounds of Country and Western Music. There's a tasty Billy Preston mini-solo in there, as well, and it's all capped off with a verbal tossaway from Charles that brings it all home. Pure cry-in-your-beer blues. Alright, Mr. Charles.

If there's a rock'n'roll heaven, I know who's gonna be tickling the celestial ivories from now on...

September 6, 2004   

F the CC
Steve Earle

From the August 2004 Artemis Records album "The Revolution Starts Now."
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Perennial shitkicker Earle has always had a little garage band thrash and punky swagger burning under the country twang, but he's never displayed it with such fiery anger as on this seething tossaway call-to-arms against what he sees as undue censorship. Yeah, it's stupid and crude and snotty and juvenile enough that it could easily fit on Rock Against Bush (Volume Two of which just came out) alongside young guttersnipes half his age, but not since the MC5 has the F word been used so potently in a pop song. Kick out the jams, Steve, and rave on.

August 30, 2004   

The Day John Henry Died
Drive-By Truckers

From the August 2004 New West Records album "The Dirty South"
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Maybe a working class hero is something to be, after all. Straight outtas Alabama, new guitarist Jason Isbell's chugging, rollicking fever dream romp through the history of Southern industrialization (the "big machine that ran on human hope and steam") snaps back and forth like a bullwhip between the John Henry of hammer-swinging legend and auto-magnate John Henry Ford. Articulate and defiant, the slow build-up of anger, three (count 'em, three!) wailing guitars and thundering drums heading into a fist-pumping chorus is barely held in check on record, and by all accounts just explodes when played live.

Fave line? "The whole world smelled like burning tires the day John Henry died."

August 23, 2004   

All the Right Reasons
The Jayhawks

From the April 2003 Lost Highway album "Rainy Day Music"
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Co-founding member/vocalist/songewriter Mark Olson may have split to make music and pitch woo with wife Victoria Williams, but the Jayhawks keep soaring. This plain-spoken heartbreaker written by Gary Louris, in its simplicity and directness, rivals Jimmy Webb at his most moving, and the shimmering vocal harmonies send it sky-high, making it one of the most openly romantic songs I've heard in a long time. I missed this one when it first came out, but I'll be paying more attention to the 'hawks' next release, fer shur. Play this one and take a deep breath. Lucious.

August 16, 2004   

Vincent Van Gogh
Jonathan Richman

From the June 2004 Sanctuary/Vapor album "Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love"
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I'm sure that more than one young music fan who first spotted Richman sitting in a tree singing in the alternative hair gel classic "There's Something About Mary" asked "Is this guy for real?" The joke, of course, is that there is no joke -- Richman IS playing it straight. His songs are THAT simple, barely more than guitar and some wide-eyed words. But they're never simple-minded. And so this strummy, yummy re-worked 1983 toe-tapper about "the most awful painter since Jan Vermeer" is sharp enough to make listeners curious about Van Gogh, and giddy and goofy enough to make them smile all the way to the museum. Richman loves art, and he lets it show.

August 9, 2004   

40 Days
Chris Robinson & The New Earth Mud

From the June 2004 Vector Records album "This Magnificient Distance"
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This is the great Bob Dylan cover that Rod Stewart and the Faces never sang and Dylan never wrote. The crunchy, Black Crowes-like swagger and the hip-shaking apocalyptic imagery that thumps the Bible with relentless fury may be signifying nothing more than Robinson's on-going affection for classic rock, but it rocks the place like it's 1972. Robinson pulls out every vocal trick he can, a two-fisted blend of moans, sighs, whoops and exhortations to the "boys" to bring it on home, and he nails the sucker but good. Heed the words I say, indeed. Ladies and gentleman, flick your Bics.

August 2, 2004 

For What It's Worth
The Cardigans

From the May 2004 Koch Records album "Long Gone Before Daylight"
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For what it's worth, I love this weepy confession, a tossaway post-brouhaha snipe over shattered dishes and broken furniture from Sweden's masters of tasty adult pop. It just burrows in under your skin, and refuses to let go, thanks to a haunting vocal by Nina Persson. She sings with a diffident mixture of brittle "couldn't care less" and nakedly vulnerable "Please don't hurt me" that will cause anyone who ever had a heart to squirm with the pain of recognition. Awash in a lounge-ready sea of grand piano and guitar strums, this is as lushly romantic as it is emotionally naked, a slice of heaven AND earth.


Artists and recording companies wishing to send me review and promotional materials should address all correspondance and material to:

Kevin Burton Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site
3053 Rancho Vista Blvd., Apt. 116,
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It might not be a bad idea to query me first though.