Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Evening's Anthem: Tom Waits - Martha

Lets go back to 1973 now and the release of Tom Waits' debut album, 'Closing Time'. This was a truely seminal album and is my favorite in Waits' back catalogue. Rarely sticking to one style, the album switches from genre to genre effortlessly - folk numbers include 'Old Shoes' and 'I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You', Jazz tracks 'Ice Cream Man' and my personal favorite, the ballad 'Martha.

The track opens with a discordant piano riff and the words 'Operator, number please', a line which instantly has the listener hooked to find out more. As the song unfolds the listener hears the dialogue between Waits, and a past love (Martha). The opening verse shows Tom's insecurities and reservation in getting back in contact with his past loves ('will she remember my old voice'). Perhaps worrying that he didn't mean as much to her as she did to him.

The chorus moves into a beautiful and smooth melody, playing off perfectly against the minor based progressions in the verses. The lyrics here change as well, reminiscing of the early romance the two shared (days of 'roses', 'poetry and prose') and living only for each other.

It feels from the rest of the song that Tom is fixed in a state of nostalgia. During the following verse we find out that she has a husband and kids, and with the line 'you know that I got married too' there is more of an indication has his marriage hasn't lasted. His life, unlike hers, seems not to have gone according to plan. He is at a point in life where nothing makes sense, and he wants to go back and remember a time when it did. The song ends with the character admitting his love for her but being reserved to the fact that it was 'never meant to be'. The song is an incredibly tragic love story; and once again, a moment of pure genius from Waits.

                                 'There was no tomorrows, we'd packed away our sorrows,
                                                 and we saved them for a rainy day.'

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Evening's Anthem: Frightened Rabbit - Backwards Walk

To be honest i'm surprised that it has taken me this long to get round to selecting a song by this band. As my friend (and 'song of the day' blog competitor) Man, Meet Dinosaur can justify, these guys are fairly consistently playing on my iPod.

There are not nearly enough positive adjectives for me to describe Frightened Rabbit. With their 2008 album 'The Midnight Organ Fight', the Scottish four piece wrote the best break up album since Ryan Adams 'Heartbreaker'. Spearheading that album is the rousing indie anthem, 'My Backwards Walk'.

This song describes singer, Hutchinson, knowing that he's in an unhealthy relationship which isn't made to last. The song describes his inability to leave it all behind even though he knows it's for the best, and in particular the physical aspects which keep bringing him back. The penultimate verse orchestrates these sentiments perfectly - 'I'm working hard on walking out, my shoes keep sticking to the ground. My clothes won't let me close the door, my trousers seem to love your floor.' It really is an incredible, emotionally charged song which builds up to Hutchinson repeating the (coarsely put) line, 'You're the shit and i'm knee deep in it'. 

The talent Hutchinson has is the ability to right deeply personable, but easily relatable lyrics. As well as this, his thick Scottish accent allows him to deliver a cuss word like only the Scots can! If you haven't checked them out, I recommend you give the below a listen, and find out what you've been missing out on. 

                    'I've been working on my backwards walk, there's nowhere else for me to go 
                      except back to you just one last time, say yes before I change my mind.'

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Evening's Anthem: Warren Zevon - Keep Me In Your Heart

Next we have a song from an artist who is not remembered quite as prominently as (in my eyes at least), he should. Back in 1970 Classic Rock placed him alongside Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen as 'one of the four most important new artists to become well known during the decade'. Perhaps not fully living up to all of the early potential indicated with his sophomore effort 'Excitable Boy', he did still go on to write some incredible songs.

In 2002 after experiencing dizzy spells, Zevon went to see his physician - and ultimately was diagnosed with mesothelioma (a form of lung cancer). His diagnosis was that he had no more than a few month to live. Zevon refused further treatments to prolong his life in favor of putting all his remaining energy into what little time he had left. His ultimate goal was to survive long enough to write and see the release of his final album, 'The Wind'. Contributions on this album from Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris and Tom Petty, showed Zevon's popularity amongst legends of the industry.

Although it's hard to judge an album objectively in these circumstances, I really do find this to be a truly special record. For me the stand out track is 'Keep Me In Your Heart'. On this song Zevon wear his heart fully on his sleeve, with some gut-wrenchingly honest lyrics. He hopes that during the every day tasks that his loved ones take part in, they keep him in their heart's for a while. The exquisitely executed guitar ballad puts across the last concerns and wishes of a very special talent, taken too early. Zevon posthumously received five Grammy nominations, including best song for 'Keep Me In Your Heart'.

Zevon survived long enough to see the birth of his twin grandsons and the release of this album on 26th August 2003. I'll leave you with some advice he gave on the Letterman show (who was a close friend of Zevon's) - when asked what advice he'd give from his current state on life, Zevon responded 'enjoy every sandwich'.

                                           'Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath
                                                                    Keep me in your heart for a while'

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Evening's Anthem: Iron & Wine - The Trapeze Swinger

Today's 'Song of the Day' is written by Sam Beam - or to use his performing and recording name, Iron and Wine. The song features on an album of IAW rarities and B-sides called 'Around the Well', and was also on the 'In Good Company' soundtrack (though i'm not sure anyone has ever seen that film).

The Trapeze Swinger is about as lyrically beautiful a song as you are likely to find. Rich in personal references from Beam, but with an over-arching lyrical theme wide enough not to alienate its listener. The song describes, from the narrators point of view, looking back at a failed relationship, and one in which you are ultimately to blame for its end. You are looking back and hoping that when she remembers your relationship, she remembers the good as well as the bad. Each verse starts with the phrase 'Please, remember me', and then continue to describe nostalgic memories. There are also multiple references suggesting that the narrator has just died, or is about to die and his worry that he won't see her in heaven because of the terrible things he did over the course of their relationship. The song ends with these fantastically crafted lines:

'So please, remember me finally,
And all my uphill clawing.
My dear, but if I make the pearly gates
I'll do my best to make a drawing,
Of God and Lucifer, a boy and girl,
An angel kissing on a sinner.
A monkey and a man, a marching band,
All around a frightened trapeze swinger'

Although this song is consistently superb, I really do believe it is one of the few occasions where it sounds better on live recordings then it does on the album. See it's fantastic performance at ACL below:

'But please, remember me, my misery
And how it lost me all I wanted'

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Evening's Anthem: Ryan Bingham - Southside of Heaven

Next up we have Mr Ryan Bingham, and his superb opener to his 2007 album 'Mescalito'. This album saw Bingham step up to mainstream success, with the backing of Nashville based (and home of another musician named Ryan) 'Lost Highway Records'.

Unlike a number of his peers Ryan Bingham is a man who has actually lived by all thclich├ęs associated with being a country musician -  being homeless, working on rodeos, sleeping rough and just generally living a hard life full of knocks. This authenticity comes across in his songs, and is worn in to the very fabric of his lyrics. 

This song is Bingham's plea for a place of peace. His statement is that the romanticised life of the troubadour is not everything that it would seem from the outside; and of how he pines for a safe and stable place to call home. These heartfelt lyrics coupled with Bingham's gruff voice, the voice of a man twice the age of the 30 year Texan - or as Rolling Stone put it 'like Steve Earle's dad'. The exquisite finger picking guitar and mandolin alongside the windswept harmonica solos create a truly atmospheric song.

                   'Well I've been a desperado in West Texas for so long Lord I need a change.
                                For ten long years this old place ain't seen a drop of rain.'

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Evening's Anthem: Nick Drake - One of These Things First

For the entire of April I'm going to post my 'song the day' for each day. I will give you a little explanation of my interpretation of the songs meaning, and why I am so fond of it.  It's day one and i'm already thinking this is going to tough...... could pretend it was an April fools prank? Nah, lets persist.

Okay, I was thinking of going for a song with the word 'first' in it as this is my first post (I know what you're thinking, I am really good at themes), so my song of the day is:

Nick Drake - One of These Things First

Nick Drake is one of those iconic names in folk music. An 'enigma wrapped inside a mystery'. All the key ingredients are there. He was making music in the late 60's/early 70's, he was a shy man who few got close too and died young enough that he didn't end up like Brian May doing collaborations with 'Five'.

'One of These Things First' comes from Nick's 2nd album, the superb 1970 release, 'Bryter Layter'. The song takes its listener on a trip through the possibilities which lay before Drake in the past. He states his disillusionment with his present with the lines 'I could be, here and now. I would be. I should be. But how? Drake's music was never popular during his life, which was a source of frustration for both Island Records and Nick himself. It seems in this song he looks back at all the forks in the road he didn't take and wonders if he may have been better off in a different life. Drake was a believer in aspects of Buddhism and particularly the idea of re-incarnation, which would also tie into the songs meanings of wanting to be something else.

Anyway, I could analyse this songs lyrics for hours but lets discuss the songs sound. The guitar and piano complement each other beautifully on this track (though does the piano remind anyone else of the tune that used to play when you were building a house on 'The Sims'?....... no, just me?). Nick's vocals are as smooth and melancholic as you're ever likely to find, although the whole song had a more uplifting tone than the lyrics would suggest. It really is an exceptional song, from an exceptional songwriter - listen below.

                                 'I could have been your statue, could have been your friend.
                                         A whole long lilfetime could have been the end.'