Paul Den Heyer deserves to be more widely known. He made his first splash with Fishmonkeyman in the 90’s – who’s If I’ve Told You Once was a memorable Britpop hit in the early 90’s. From there he’s played with and produced many memorable bands – two of them very dear to my heart. I’m talking about the summer drenched tunes of Sunstack Jones and John Lever’s project The Red-Sided Garter Snakes – whose two albums showcased several artists influenced and inspired by John and his work with The Chameleons and The Sun and the Moon. It was a last influx of creativity before John passed away and it left me wondering what would come next from these artists, chief among them Paul Den Heyer. I didn’t have to wait long, as Paul’s been in touch with me letting me know about his solo work and sharing snippets over the “world wide web”. And now that it is here, how does it stack up? Does it live up to everything I had hoped?
It took me an embarrassingly long time to make the connections between punk and country music. Not so much in musical styles – in attitude. Once it sunk in (about 18 months after the last Johnny Cash show in my neck of the woods at the time), I was hooked. You couldn’t find enough Cash, Gram Parsons, or Mike Nesmith records for me (yep, that Mike Nesmith). I’m not a fan of most Nashville, radio friendly country music. But give me some outlaw country, and I”m all over that. Punk spirit and tunes that cut straight to the heart. Harley Graves fits into this mold perfectly.
Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.
It is a rarity for a song to capture the zeitgeist in a meaningful manner. On the patriotic side, the songs can sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. On the rebel alliance side, the sounds can also sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. It takes a perfect storm of outside forces to produce a song that captures an era or event. Jesus, Etc by Wilco was recorded in early 2001, released in early 2002. Written by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, it uses evocative lyrical imagery married to country-ish musical backing. It is one of the more straightforward songs from the experimental tour de force, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Tweedy’s opening world-weary sigh “Jesus, don’t cry / You can rely on me honey” comes straight out of conversations couples have each and every day. The melodic string laden hook pulsates throughout the song, making it instantly memorable. Veering on the “glass is half empty” world view, Tweedy continues “You were right about the stars / Each one is a setting sun”. A pessimist’s way of imploring the listener to embrace the now? Possibly. The post 9/11 world was full of misguided nationalism, but it also left an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. Sadness permeated the air. Considering this song was written PRE 9/11 but released POST 9/11, the next verses are just a bit eerie “Tall buildings shake / Voices escape singing sad sad songs / Voices whine / Skyscrapers are scraping together”. Metaphors for conflict in a relationship and the sadness that ensues. Tweedy resolves everything with a bit of a non resolution “Our love is all of God’s money / Everyone is a burning sun”. Another brilliant way of imploring us to embrace the now. The ancient Epicureans famously believed in the philosophy of “Eat, drink, be merry – for tomorrow we may die”. In the post 9/11 world, Wilco captured that essence in a way that made the world take notice. I believe that is a philosophy worth embracing no matter what our religious beliefs are. Make each moment count.
The Cornelius Crane – Manchester, England’s answer to American alt-country – have released over an album’s worth of quality material over the last 2 years or so. Instead of delivering 12 songs on the traditional long player, the band have delivered 3 songs here, 4 songs there. I think this approach has worked out well for the band – quality song after quality song, with a 6 to 9 month wait for a new batch instead of the traditional 18 months to 2 years wait between full length albums. Steve, Dan, Mark, & friends have never even delivered a mediocre song, so it is no surprise that the new EP Soul in the Lightning is a bona fide masterpiece.
The Empire Strikes Back is usually considered the strongest film of the original Star Wars series. As it turns out, it was also the 2nd film (but now I think it is considered the 5th because of the newer trilogy). The Wrath of Khan is also considered the best of the original Star Trek series and you guessed it – it’s the 2nd film. There have been epic failures in the sequel class of course – The Matrix sequels come to mind (sorry to anyone who enjoyed them. Drop me a line and explain them to me please) – but when a sequel is done right it can reinforce the positive attributes of what came before while building and adding to that foundation. The Cornelius Crane’s new EP follows their critically acclaimed record, E.P. Too. It hits all the right notes, falling into the Empire / Khan category that I talked about earlier.
The word “Americana” when applied to music conjures up visions of acoustic guitar, singing with friends around a fire, and an authentic approach to the music and lyrics. All of these things are true – at its best it can incorporate country, folk, bluegrass, and even R&B into the mix. Over the last decade or so a curious thing has taken place – as American indie bands discovered pastoral (think Nick Drake), English indie bands have discovered Americana styled music (think The Band). What happens when the two styles merge? You end up with a band like The Cornelius Crane, who have delivered a masterpiece of a record, E.P. Too.
The day Whitney Houston died I was listening to the new Honeychurch cd, driving on the freeway, formulating a review in my head (to coincide with the launch of this site). Throughout Honeychurch’s history they have received tons of well deserved attention for their covers of The Magnetic Fields, Neil Young, and Dolly Parton. Ah yes, Dolly Parton. The author of “I Will Always Love You” , a song which was made (even more) famous by a certain Miss Houston. I had to laugh as I watched an argument break out on a website over who actually wrote the song – a Whitney fan was in disbelief that Dolly Parton had written this song, a song so associated with Whitney Houston that it was instantly in the charts again once she had passed. Honeychurch – Dolly Parton – Whitney Houston – back to Honeychurch. With their new record “Will You Be There With Me”, Shilough & Larissa Hopwood of Honeychurch have created a masterpiece.