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Monday, April 04, 2005

The Best Of What's Around

At long last, here it is. Nearly two weeks ago I promised something special upon my return from Denver. Now, please allow me to introduce The Best Of What's Around, another post series that I hope to develop into an occasional feature. This feature will collect a CD's worth of great songs that I've picked up from fellow bloggers. It's basically a mixtape of what I consider the best of what other bloggers have introduced me to, the stuff that's really made itself at home in my world. At the same time, it's unlike a mixtape because I won't be selecting or organizing the tracks around any theme or concept; just one great song after another, from disparate genres and times. However, I did make a CD out of these songs and it sounds fucking incredible, so I do encourage you do the same if you're so inclined. It's certainly worth the effort.

So, without further ado, I present the first installment of The Best Of What's Around. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming size of this undertaking I have been reduced to using You Send It. It involves a little more clicking, but other than that it's basically the same. Enjoy!

Bob Martin - "Salisbury Beach"

Of all the songs I've been introduced to through the magic of music blogs thus far, Bob Martin's "Salisbury Beach" is without a doubt the one I'm most thankful for. The drums and shimmering guitar introduce a Dylanesque voice, but soon a more unique, genuine talent than just another Dylan derivative is revealed. On just this one song Martin distinguishes himself as a folk songwriter with few peers. The melody and pace of the song are impeccable. Martin's phrasing conveys so much, especially combined with such evocative lyrics. Listen to the way he sings "I might even get to play a song" or "Tryin' to think of who would loan you those plastic see-through shoes".

I was introduced to Bob Martin by Listen!, a self-described Alt-Americana blog that shares my love for artists such as Dan Bern, Songs: Ohia and Jolie Holland. He posted on Bob Martin way back on October 13, 2004, a post titled "The Other Bob". His second sentence is right on the money: "Bob Martin is one of those Folk singers that keep the Folk idiom alive while updating the subject matter and singing about today." "Salisbury Beach" is drawn from Martin's 1997 album The River Turns The Wheel. Visit his website for more information.

Anaïs Mitchell - "1984 [Live]"

Anaïs Mitchell's live version of her song "1984" grabbed me right away. It's a flawed but still great performance with all the energy and humor a young songwriter ought to trade in. Only a folk songwriter would so coolly spell out her distaste for the Patriot Act, as Mitchell does here. I laugh along with the audience every time she sings of turning her lover in. This live recording captures the all-too-rare occurrence of an artist saying something important and having fun at the same time. Extra props for fusing Prince and George Orwell.

This song is courtesy of Songs: Illinois, the host with the most. Songs: Illinois posts day after day, like a reporter sending back findings from his visits to the world of alt-country, folk and rock. To put it another way, I haven't come across another blog that can keep up with him, at least not while maintaining such a high level of quality across as broad a selection of artists. You see, I could easily make The Best Of What's Around just using songs I've picked up there. Limiting myself, I choose the one that has kept me coming back the longest. He's posted on Anaïs at least a couple times, this one comes from January 9 of this year. The studio version of "1984" appears on Mitchell's Hymns For The Exiled album from last year. Visit her website for more information and mp3s.

Amy Miles - "Kill To Know"

This song has attitude and swagger to spare. Amy Miles' voice is of the husky sort, a deep, bold instrument that she uses in what can only be called a sexy way, like a fun Melissa Etheridge. You gotta love that chorus and the rhythm that demands you get caught up in it.

I was introduced to this by Fingertips, a great blog that delivers three gems a week. He/she posted on Amy Miles the week of December 19-25 last year. Definitely read the post on it. Among other things, it has this great description: "Amy Miles writes down and dirty songs and sings them with an appealing sort of blase-ness." "Kill To Know" is from Amy's 2002 album Dirty Stay-Out. Visit her website for more information and mp3 clips for her new album, Noble Hatch.

Bette Bright & The Illuminations - "Soulful Dress"

This awesome song is the definition of sassy. Bette Bright, she formerly of Deaf School, turns in a classic new wave cover of Sugar Pie Desanto's "Soulful Dress". You can just imagine women terrified of losing their men after hearing this song; when Bette Bright sings "don't you girls go getting jealous when I round up all your fellas", she sounds like she means it.

I came across this through Fire Of lovE, a great blog that's all over the place but always on the mark. He/she posted on Bette Bright earlier this year on February 2, offering it side by side with the aforementioned Sugar Pie Desanto version. Bette Bright's version comes from her 1981 album Rhythm Breaks The Ice, which has probably never been released on CD. Likewise, there doesn't appear to be an official website for her. If you love it, hunt down the vinyl I guess.

Bunky - "Baba"

There comes a time in every musical correspondence when a line must be drawn, and when it comes to "Baba" that time for me is now. It's like this, if you ain't feeling "Baba", then I ain't feeling you. C'mon, who else could make the line "going bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh" sound like the most profound lyric ever written? What could be more fun than out of control horns fronted by what sounds like a shit-talking 12 year old? Unless you said nothing, you are wrong!

To be perfectly honest, I don't know anything about this band beyond this song. It was What's Knittin', Kitten? that introduced me to this, and going back and reading his February 24 post I discover that Bunky is a boy/girl group signed to Asthmatic Kitty. "Baba" is from this year's Born To Be A Motorcycle, which I know I'll be picking up on my next visit to a record store. Visit Bunky's website for more information and mp3s.

Kylie Minogue - "Red Blooded Woman [Whitey Mix]"

Midnight Movies - "Time Of Year"

Here's two from Spoilt Victorian Child, one of my heroes when it comes to this blogging shit. Speaking without hyperbole, I would've never started a music blog if it hadn't been for my discovery of, and subsequent deep respect for, SVC's blog. To give you a hint, this blog's recent posts have included John Coltrane, Rufus Wainwright, King Tubby & Augustus Pablo, Squarepusher, Big Star, The Kinks, Hood and Two Gallants. That kind of breadth is beautiful.

Given the broad range of almost uniformly great music that SVC covers, it's a wonder these two songs stood out to me. I've never been a Kylie fan; in fact, the only album of hers I've heard is last year's Body Language, and the only thing that really stood out on that was "Promises". But damn, I love Whitey's mix of "Red Blooded Woman". Just the repetition of the lines "girl wants to run with you" and "you'll never get to heaven if you're scared of getting high" seals it. Placing Kylie's voices and coos amidst such expanses of space makes her sound otherworldly and exciting. This was actually one of the first songs I ever downloaded from SVC, way back on November 18, 2004. This mix is from the Australian "Red Blooded Woman" single. Visit Kylie's website for information and whatnot.

I was glad when SVC posted on Midnight Movies on January 16. The constant comparisons to Stereolab had peaked my interest, but I wasn't willing to pick up the album without hearing any of it. SVC put up "Time Of Year", a contender for best song on the album, and I was hooked. I love the way the monster drums dissolve into guitar squeal at the beginning of the song, and Gena Olivier has a fantastic voice. "Time Of Year" is taken from Midnight Movies' self-titled debut. Visit their website to learn more about them.

Jay-Z & Nena - "99 Luft Problems"

This is my shit! What's the hardest city in America? Compton? The Bronx? That's the city I want to drive through with the roof down bumping this. They'll think it's alright at first (Jigga still gets respect in the hood, right?), then the chorus'll come in and who knows what'll happen. I just want to see their faces. This is easily my favorite mash-up: I'm not going to say it's better than the original, but it's definitely close. The beat suits Hov's voice so well and Nena plays off of it with pure chemisty, despite the fact that she probably has no idea this song exists.

I think this was originally available as a bonus track on the Jay-Zeezer album, but I came across it the morning of October 1, 2004 at Bedroom Dancing. Needless to say, life simply hasn't been the same since.

Eminem & Eye-Kyu - "313"

Despite the fact that I'm a huge Eminem fan, I've never sought out Infinite. I hear it's available on eBay and I'm interested in hearing it, but for some reason I've just never put the necessary effort into acquiring it. I had heard a few songs from it, but not this one until The Tofu Hut used it as part of his numbers series on December 16 of last year.

Since then I've listened to it a lot. Eye-Kyu, "the freshest whack emcee", opens the track well enough, but Em's verse shines with the hunger and humor that characterized much of his underground work. The tone of his voice is so dramatically different from the voice that became familiar the world over. It lends credence to the theory that, far from reverse-Sam Phillips scheming, Dre simply didn't realize Em was white upon first hearing him. If you could go back and listen to this track in 1996, not knowing everything you've learned about his Shadyness in the years since, you'd have no reason to assume he's white either. He's just a kid, but there's already a hint of the sheer talent and desire that have made him so unique. "Simple as ABCs, skip over the Ds and rock the microphone with ease", indeed. Visit Eminem's website for information.

Genevieve Waite - "Girls"

Virna Lindt - "Underwater Boy"

Here we have two from The International House Of Pussy, a blog that only features tracks from women. They're from posts two and five on this page, but there aren't any dates. My guess is I got these from IHOP back in October or November last year.

I had never heard of either of these ladies before, but I eventually plan on checking out more of their music now. IHOP provides interesting paragraph-long summaries on each, so I'll try not repeat much. Genevieve Waite's "Girls" is alive with pure camp pleasure, a stunning piece of pop. IHOP describes Waite's voice as "Olive Oyl meets Betty Boop with a dash of Little Nell". Don't laugh, he's (why does the blog name make me think it's a guy?) serious. Truest line: "Girls'll run around in your head 'til you wish you liked boys instead". "Girls" is from the 1974 album Romance Is On The Rise, Waite's only solo album, which was just reissued last year with bonus tracks by Chrome Dreams. Not surprisingly, there isn't a Genevieve Waite official website, but Chrome Dreams has more information on the album.

Virna Lindt's "Underwater Boy" is a slow, hypnotic dose of quiet dream pop. IHOP calls it "sexy spy side-kick melodrama". Her label, The Compact Organization, calls it a balance "between light and shade". I call it fantastic. Unfortunately, according to IHOP, the album that "Underwater Boy" comes from, 1983's Shiver, isn't easy to come by, at least not without spending upwards of $100. For more information, visit Virna's Compact page.

Spooky Tooth - "I Am The Walrus"

Spooky Tooth give "I Am The Walrus" the apocalyptic doomsday treatment the lyrics so richly deserve, abandoning the "coo-coo-cachoo"'s that have always annoyed me. It's bluesier and heavier than anything The Beatles ever did, with the possible exception of the version of "Helter Skelter" from Anthology 3. It has an instrumental section that just screams early-70s, but this band does it better, or maybe just in a more accessible way, than I'm used to hearing and Mike Harrison's voice sounds perfect out in front.

Tuwa's Shanty, one of the first blogs I ever discovered, posted this song on December 4, 2004 as part of a farewell post. He's only made a few posts since, but thankfully he's not gone completely. He points out the "expert textpert" part of this cover as particularly good, and I concur. This song first appeared on Spooky Tooth's fourth album, The Last Puff, from 1970. It's available on CD on several Spooky Tooth compilations. For more information, visit the official Spooky Tooth website.

Becky Stark - "Cadillac"

This is a soft-spoken song that says a lot more than is apparent on first listen. Becky Stark's tender vocal performance is nostalgia incarnate, equal parts wonder and yearning. This song has all the intimacy that something recorded in a friend's apartment ought to have. Bonus points for working in a mention of Ypsilanti.

Mystery & Misery turned me on to Ms. Stark. In recent months Mystery & Misery has become one of the blogs I visit most frequently; I love the layout, the succinct writing and the range of artists featured (today he posted on Elk City!). He posted this song and a few others on January 10. As far as I can tell, this song was only released in mp3 form online, not as part of an album or anything. Visit Mr. Hyde Records, her label's site, for more information, and this post on their message board in particular for more information on the recording of "Cadillac" and links to other songs.

Wanda Jackson - "Cool Love"

Is there anyone around anymore who doesn't know how awesome Wanda Jackson was in her early years? If so, this is a track for them. This song must've been really ahead of its time when it was released in 1960 on Wanda's second album, Rockin' With Wanda: she tells her man in no uncertain terms exactly what kind of love she needs, making "you're acting like a square" sound like the worst putdown imaginable. She was on fire back then, her voice so perfectly suited to the rockabilly material she was singing. Throw in handclaps and some excellent guitar and, man, you'll really have a ball.

Honey, Where You Been So Long? posted this song on February 11, shortly before the start of his amazing Stackolee week. (Congrats on that by the way, I've never seen anything like it!) Visit Wanda's website for more information. While you're there, consider picking up her latter-day classic, 2003's Heart Trouble.

Pharrell, Jay-Z & Snoop Dogg - "Drop It Like It's Hot [Remix]"

This one's a little different. It was You Sent in my comments on March 6 at my request by someone called wooo. That was my first time hearing it, but now I'm crazy for it. Pharrell sounds good ("how you say it? bueno") and Snoop doesn't annoy for once, but again Mr. S-Dizzot steals the shizzow. Devoting his entire verse to Snoopizms, Jay makes it sounds fresh again, a feat that was last accomplished by Em on "American Psycho" on the first D12 album. It still boggles the mind how Jigga can dismiss foes in a matter of lines, as he does R. Kelly here. I miss the original's chorus, but it's all good. I'm not gonna link to these artist's websites, you already know what they're about.

Magneta Lane - "Cheap Linguistics"

Magneta Lane - "Their Party Days"

These two Magneta Lane songs are courtesy of Teaching The Indie Kids To Dance Again. TTIKTDA, as I believe it's known, is not a blog I read frequently, mostly because I'm not an indie kid, but I was happy to find songs from this young band one of the days I did check in. Magneta Lane are a Canadian trio signed to Paper Bag Records. Lead-singer Lexi Valentine sounds a little too much like vintage Debbie Harry, but other than that they seem well on their way to whatever form of greatness they choose for themselves. Great hooks, great drumming and good guitar interplay, plus attitude and style. Yup, that's how it's done. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to a full-length.

TTIKTDA posted these songs on December 17 last year. "Their Party Days" is from the 2004 EP The Constant Lover, while TTIKTDA says "Cheap Linguistics" is from an upcoming 7". Visit Magneta Lane's website, or their page on Paper Bag Records.

Ronee Blakely - "Dues"

This song, "Dues", is from the soundtrack to Robert Altman's Nashville. I fucking hated that movie. I mean really, really detested it, so much so that I don't remember especially enjoying any of the music in the movie, which is what I was interested in it for in the first place. Nevertheless, when I picked this song up from The Sound & Fury Of Radio CRMW on January 12 I fell head over heels in love with it right away. Some of you may know Ronee from her stint as a background vocalist on Bob Dylan's Desire or from her solo albums. Here she's cast as a Countrypolitan singer in the vein of Tammy Wynette. Doesn't matter, this is a great song that's perfectly suited for her over-the-top vocal performance. In fact, it practically demands it. That chorus is to die for.

Radio CRMW seems to focus on music from the movies, but recent posts have included Neil Young, The Kinks, The White Stripes, Jimmy Smith and The Coasters, among others. Ronee Blakely doesn't seem to have a website officially devoted solely to her on the whole of the internet, for shame.

Nancy Sinatra - "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time"

Don't call it a comeback, call it Nancy Sinatra for now people. She updates herself with the help of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker on this song. Worth it alone just to hear her sing "some skinny bitch walks by in some hot pants". I came across this one thanks to fellow Olympian We're Here To Help You Thru Yr Changes, who posted it on January 23. That post, titled Clawing Back Towards Respectability, puts his signature humorous writing style on full display. The song itself is from Nancy's self-titled album from last year. Visit her website for more information.

Jadakiss - "Animal"

This one I can't attribute to any particular blog. I just know it's been floating around the internet in the aftermath of 50 Cent's sophomore album and I picked it up somewhere along the way. Jada holds no punches, hitting 50 everywhere at once, from his "collaborations" with Biggie to his residency in Connecticut to steriod use to his rap crooning to...I mean, you get the point. Funniest line: "This is a true fact: since when has it become cool to get shot and not shoot back (never!)". It's the lyrical beatdown 50 asked for, that's for sure. The only thing Jada might've done wrong is play all his cards too soon, but it'll be interesting to see where this goes from here. Once again, let's just hope it stays on wax. This isn't available on any album (yet), but you might be able to find it on a mixtape or two. Visit Jadakiss' website for more information on Jadakiss, probably not on "Animal".

Whew! There we go, I'm spent. It might take me a couple days to feel up to posting again. Let me know in the comments what you think and what you like.

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