Songs You May Have Missed #404


The Shins: “Gone for Good” (2003)

From one of the best releases of 2003, by one of the best bands of any era. James Mercer’s songwriting is subtle and seemingly effortless, and the band’s arrangements combine elements of classic pop music and other styles in fresh and interesting ways, such as the layers of twang dripping like chocolate syrup all over this pretty tune.

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Find Your Understanding

Recommended Albums #45


Warren Zevon: Sentimental Hygiene (1987)

Even the most rabid Warren Zevon fan would admit “Werewolves of London” was a fluke–an unlikely intersection of eccentricity and mass appeal that in large part came down to a hook comprised of a simulated werewolf’s howl.

Excepting this one-off that’s become a Halloween perennial, Zevon’s sardonic, often bizarre lyrical bent has ensured his status as cult figure, albeit a very well-connected one. One of his musical friends, Jackson Browne, produced Zevon’s second album, which featured two more, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks–with whom Zevon had shared a house a couple years earlier–as well as several members of the Eagles and Bonnie Raitt. The Warren Zevon album, though a critical success, was all but ignored by the public. Fellow Californian Linda Ronstadt was hip, though: she covered no fewer than three of the album’s tunes, including hit single “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”.

Excitable Boy, Zevon’s only top ten album, followed in 1978, its sales spurred by the success of the aforementioned “Werewolves”. But for most of the next decade, alcohol addiction somewhat derailed his career; he only managed to release two studio and one live album during that span.

Finally in 1987 a clean and sober Warren Zevon proved what he was capable of with all cylinders firing. With Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry of R.E.M. on board, and guest appearances from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Don Henley, George Clinton, Flea, Brian Setzer and more, Zevon unleashed his most focused and best work since Excitable Boy.

This album was my introduction to Zevon, and it’s a fine how-do-you-do indeed. While it was his most radio-ready album in ten years, its populist tendencies did not come at the sacrifice of Zevon’s wry wit. Even the touching “The Heartache”, which speaks of the risks of falling in love, is pure Zevon:

Shadows falling in the noonday sun/Blue feeling to the maximum

Listen for Neil Young’s soloing on the title track–it’s unmistakable “Like a Hurricane”-style Neil.

If you’re interested but unfamiliar with the Warren Zevon catalog, this superb album is a perfect place to start. And if your appraisal of his work is largely based on “Werewolves of London”, take him up on his proposition to “Reconsider Me”.

Listen to: “Sentimental Hygiene”

Listen to: “Boom Boom Mancini”

Listen to: “Trouble Waiting to Happen”

Listen to: “Reconsider Me”

Don’t miss: “Even a Dog Can Shake Hands”

Listen to: “The Heartache”

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Songs You May Have Missed #403


Renaissance: “Ocean Gypsy” (1975)

Annie Haslam, an operatically-trained singer with a three-octave range, brought a touch of class to the 70’s prog scene. However, the band Renaissance may have been the victim of its own classical ambitions. Although songs like “Ocean Gypsy” still sound good today and have influenced latter-day “Renaissance faire rock” acts such as Blackmore’s Night, even their best albums are laced with some of prog’s pretentious tendencies.

Some prog acts withstood punk’s late-70’s takeover better than others; Renaissance was not one of those that continued to thrive.

Songs You May Have Missed #402


Allison Weiss: “Making it Up” (2013)

Some superb old-fashioned girl-group angst from one of Altpress’ 100 Bands You Need to Know in 2013.

Allison herself says of the song’s inspiration:

Sometimes this thing happens when you break up with somebody, where you go from being best friends, to not even speaking. Sometimes it happens so fast you can’t even remember if you were actually together. I wrote this song in a hotel room in Florida. I was doing a college show and decided to stay an extra day to get out of the city. I drank some wine and wrote in my journal. It was pretty emo. This song came out of that.

Songs You May Have Missed #401

say you will

Fleetwood Mac: “Peacekeeper” (2003)

A highlight of 2003 comeback album Say You Will, “Peacekeeper” possesses some of the old magic–and certainly the glorious harmonies–that made Fleetwood Mac one of the greatest bands of the 70’s.

On the downside, the absence of Christine McVie’s songwriting on the album is keenly felt. Over the course of 18 tracks, all written by either Buckingham or Nicks, a tedium sets in for the average listener. Somewhat ironic that the band who’d cut such gems as “Silver Springs” from past albums gives us too much here.

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How Little Are “Lil” Rappers, Really?

lil rappers(Source: BuzzFeed)

Songs You May Have Missed #400


Libera: “Ave Maria” (2001)

Next time you want to slow your heartbeat down and find a quiet, reflective–dare I say prayerful–moment, you could do much worse for background music than London boy choir Libera.

Although some tracks are overlaid with electronic effects that would horrify classical purists (I too think they detract rather than adding to the music’s appeal) when the focus is on the sublime vocals and instrumentation is kept to a minimum the results can be spectacular. Such is the case with their rendition of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”.

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Songs You May Have Missed #399


Don McLean: “Empty Chairs” (1971)

Having one gigantic hit song can be a mixed blessing for an artist.

It pains me to hear stories of drunken “fans” badgering Don McLean throughout his live concerts for the only song they came to hear, uber-anthem “American Pie”.

This guy was a gifted writer, capable of spinning a set full of thoughtful, diverse and colorful tunes for the patient listener. Trouble is, “American Pie” is the ultimate dive bar sing-along, and it must come at or near the end, otherwise McLean would play the rest of his set to a lot of…empty chairs.

If you like his hit single “Vincent”, this one should find favor with you too.

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