Heart to Mouth released on 7th December
The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse (2000)
This is an old favourite full of lovely covers and interpretations of traditional songs. It was one of the first albums I bought when I started getting into Americana. Top tracks, The Coo Coo Bird and Light Enough to Travel
Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust (1975)
I generally prefer Joan Baez’s later work, but I really like this album of covers and her own compositions. The title track is just one of the best and most beautiful break-up songs ever. Top track, Diamonds & Rust
Ferron, Phantom Center (1990)
You probably won’t have heard of Ferron unless you’re into niche lesbian music (like my partner is), but she’s big in the women’s music festival circuit and has influenced songwriters like Ani DiFranco and Mary Gauthier. Top track, White Wing Mercy
First Aid Kit, Ruins (2018)
Beautiful album that drew me into First Aid Kit fandom. Each of their albums has a distinctive feel and I think this one is the most country-influenced. Top track, Rebel Heart
Ani DiFranco, Red Letter Year (2008)
Confession: I’ve never managed to get into Ani DiFranco. I’m not sure what it is because I can hear the amazing talent there. I’ll keep trying and maybe one day I’ll get it. I do like Red Letter Year, which is her (relatively) happy “I’m in a good relationship and had a baby” album. Top tracks ‘Emancipated Minor’ and ‘The Atom’.
Case, Lang Veirs, Atomic Number
Beth Orton, Ooh Child (alternative version)
Carina Round, You Will be Loved
Joan Armatrading, Help Yourself
Al Green, Love and Happiness
Laura Nyro, Eli’s Coming
Corinne Bailey Rae, Diving for Hearts
Joni Mitchell, Tin Angel
Bjork, The Dull Flame of Desire
KD Lang, Season of Hollow Soul
Mariee Sioux & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Loveskulls
Joseph Arthur, Love Never Asks you to Lie
Brandi Carlile, Raise Hell
Until recently, I’d have said that The Red Shoes was my least favourite Kate Bush album. I hadn’t listened to it for years. Then Lily and Big Stripey Lie scrobbled on my last.fm account and I completely changed my mind. Maybe The Red Shoes resonates more as you get older. It’s a complex, mature woman’s album, exploring themes of self-determination, resilience (Rubberband Girl), creativity (The Red Shoes), and spirituality.
Well I said, “Lily, oh Lily I don’t feel safe
I feel that life has blown a great big hole
Through me” And she said
“Child, you must protect yourself
You can protect yourself
I’ll show you how with fire”
My partner got me listening to Cris Williamson’s classic of feminist, lesbian and women’s music, The Changer and the Changed (1975). Williamson has such a beautiful, soaring voice. ‘Waterfall’ (0.00) gives me chills and you can just hear them playing ‘Sweet Woman’ (12.51) for the slow dance at the end of the lesbian disco in the 1970s. You might like to compare the original ‘Shooting Star’ (21:15) with the Butchies cover. Williamson has developed a more solidly country sound in recent years. Fringe (2007) is awesome too.
Her signature song is as relevant as ever.
You Don’t Own me
“You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys
And don’t tell me what to do
And don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display, ‘cause
Last week we got together with some women friends to talk about the music that’s influenced our relationships with feminism. We put together a playlist, listened to each track in turn, and then discussed the reasons why it had made the list.
Talking through the tracks, I was reminded of just how powerfully music becomes associated with particular moments in our lives. After we listened to L7’s ‘Shove’, the women of around my age talked about Donita Sparks’s legendary tampon throwing moment at Reading Festival in 1992. I’ll also never forget Donita blowing my poor little repressed mind on British youth television show, The Word, when she pulled down her pants during a performance to reveal a serious lack of underwear. These may not have been the most helpful feminist acts ever taken (or maybe you think they were), but we agreed that they made us feel that something was changing and it was exciting. For similar reasons, but from a few years later, Andy talked about No Doubt’s song ‘Just a Girl’ which threw stark light on her suburban upbringing, a childhood of bedrooms being painted pink by parents and an adolescence of being told not to drive at night.
Andy also nominated Lesley’s Gore’s proto-feminist 1964 hit ‘You Don’t Own Me’ which was part of the soundtrack to her childhood because her parents love all of that 60s pop, but which took on new meaning as she came to appreciate the lyrics and discovered that Gore later came out as a lesbian, a piece of queer knowledge that gives an added twist to the song’s meaning. When we first started dating she put the song on a mix CD for me, as a bit of homage to the way that music has become a method of communication between lesbians. I think the song still sounds fresh and relevant.
Speaking of leshian music, I was quite glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who thought Kathleen Hanna was singing ‘She’s got the hottest dyke in town’ on ‘Rebel Girl’ rather than ‘She’s got the hottest trike in town’. And the oldest woman in the group brought along a vinyl copy of Alix Dobkin’s Lavender Jane Loves Women, the very first album made by and for lesbians, released in 1973. We didn’t get round to listening to it, but maybe next time we will, even if it is, as she says, “a bit scratched”.
The politics of Kate Bush’s ‘Army Dreamers’ surprised us when we stopped just listening to the pretty production, actually read the lyrics, and found that they address the way that poor kids are sent off to die in war. Kate Bush is very important to me; I spent a lot of time in my childhood dancing in the kitchen to her album The Dreaming.
Andy recommended Ani DiFranco’s ‘Talk to me Now’ from her first album released when she was 19 years old, which features the great line, “I was blessed with a birth and a death and I guess I just want some say in between”. There was a general agreement that DiFranco is particularly good at drawing the political implications out of personal experience.
Patti Smith’s extraordinary ‘Gloria’ was universally loved and still has the power to make me blush. I actually bought her album Horses because of her photograph on the cover, not because I knew anything about the music. There was a lot of discussion about Smith’s self-presentation and although I hate the word ’empowering’, right now I can’t think of another one to describe the effect people said she continues to have on them.
It was interesting that the Throwing Muses’s song ‘Hate my Way’ was liked and disliked by different people for the same reason – because it’s so raw and angry. I think those of us who like it do so because it represents a woman completely owning her negative thoughts and feelings. The part when Hersh lets rip with ‘My pillow screams too/But so does my kitchen/And water/ And my shoes/And the road’ still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s not the line itself so much as the way she delivers it. Incidentally, I had a nightmare the other night in which I found out that the Throwing Muses were playing in my town and I couldn’t find a computer with internet access to book tickets.
Someone put Sonic Youth’s song ‘Swimsuit Issue’ on the list, causing me to reappraise a band I’d always rather resented because when I was a teenager, only the coolest kids at my school were allowed to listen to Sonic Youth. I would never have dared to listen to them because it would have just looked like I was trying too hard.
I’d never really been convinced by Le Tigre before, but had to admit to enjoying ‘Decaptacon’ and ‘What’s your take on Casevetes?’ I am now persuaded to give them another chance. The same goes for Chicks on Speed and even Peaches. The list introduced me to some new artists to explore, M.I.A who sounds amazing and Fever Ray. Other people were introduced to new music too, and some were espeically bowled over by the gorgeous mystery of Nina Nastasia’s ‘Dear Rose’ from her album Dogs.
Possibly the most important track for me on the list was P J Harvey’s ‘Dress’ from her first album Dry, which a friend put on a mix tape for me way back around 1996 and which started the ongoing love affair with Harvey that has brought me so much joy and pain. I don’t think I’ll try and articulate my feelings; I’ll just post a video of her performing the song live.
We realise that we’ve hardly scratched the surface and that the list had many limitations, so we’ve decided to keep adding to our collaborative playlist and do it all again in a few months time.
Good artists on the list as a whole, but I do think the order and individual album selection is a bit strange in places.