I got Kristin Hersh’s live album Cats and Mice for Christmas. Recorded in San Francisco in 2009, it has a generous 19 tracks drawn mostly from Learn to Sing Like a Star and Crooked, and an excellent production. I gave the Throwing Muses’s 1996 album Limbo an outing, although I have to say this is the one album of their’s that I don’t entirely get. I also listened to Star (1993) from Tanya Donnelly’s post-throwing Muses band Belly, an indie-pop album that stills sounds really fresh.
I realised that I hadn’t heard P J Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) for ages. I just loved this album so much when it came out, that I think I may have overplayed it. Then there was Marianne Faithful’s, Before the Poison, which is a dream of an album for the likes of me because it includes collaborations with P J Harvey, Nick Cave, Damon Albarn and Jon Brion. I prefer Faithful since she fucked up her voice and these twisted little songs are perfect for her range, such as it is. Also in the brilliant but slightly creepy category, we had Nina Nastasia’s extremely accomplished first album Dogs.
My Leonard Cohen listening this month comprised 1988’s I’m Your Man and Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979. Although the songwriting on I’m your Man is as good as anything he’s done (except for ‘Jazz Police’ which is strangely awful), the 80s production takes a bit of getting used to, and I think my partner was ambivalent about it to say the least. Such great songs though: the black humour of ‘First we Take Manhattan’, the catchy gloom of ‘Everybody Knows’, the “begging to be covered by a lesbian band” excess of ‘I’m your man’, the melancholy of ‘I can’t forget’ and, of course, ‘Tower of Song’. The 1979 tour is one of my favourite Cohen live albums. It accompanies the album Recent Songs from the same year, and I think the live recording adds more feeling to these songs.
In Americana, Gillian Welch’s new album The Harrow and the Harvest was another Christmas gift which, while not as immediately arresting as her first few albums, is quickly growing on me. Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Bring the Flood (1996) was highly praised on its release, although I don’t think I like it as much as her early work. Still, ‘Hold on, Hold on’ is a great song. I tried to listen to Fly by The Dixie Chicks, but after a few songs my partner objected because apparently everyone was listening to it when she was in high school and hearing it again was freaking her out too much. I’ll have to wait until she’s out to finish it.
I had a bit of a 90s kick and discovered that a.), I no longer have the required levels of angst to listen to the Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream (1993) all the way through, b.) The Divine Comedy’s Casanova (1996) can still make me laugh a lot and cry a little with the last song ‘The Dogs and the Horses’, and c.), that my partner is deeply unimpressed by Blur’s 13 (1998) which, I have to admit, does come off as a little self-indulgent now.
I can feel an REM phase coming on. We dusted off 1991’s The Best of REM which is thoroughly brilliant.
Tracks – with links to videos on YouTube
Kristin Hersh, Sugarbaby
Belly, Feed the Tree
P J Harvey, Big Exit on Later with Jools Holland
Marianne Faithful, My Friends Have
Nina Nastasia, Dear Rose
Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows live in London in 2008
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, The Way it Goes
Neko Case, Hold On, Hold On
The Dixie Chicks, Goodbye Earl
Smashing Pumpkins, Cherub Rock
Divine Comedy, Songs of Love
REM performing Radio Free Europe on David Letterman in 1983. Great hair Michael and great dancing everyone.
But the most life affirming music video I’ve seen this month has to be Cameo’s Word Up. Levar Burton looking startled, a red codpiece, stripping police officers, what more could you possibly want?