Natalie Merchant – Natalie Merchant

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Natalie Merchant straddles multiple genres, never comfortably fitting in any scene. With the 10,000 Maniacs she veered from post-punk / folk to jangle pop. With her solo works she found even wider acceptance with her radio ready, alternative pop sound. Personally, seeing Natalie Merchant in concert in 2001 for the Motherland tour was a highlight among the hundreds of shows I’ve been fortunate to catch. She owned the stage and made her audience feel the depth of the words she was singing so passionately. Motherland was her last record of original material for over a decade – 2003’s The House Carpenter’s Daughter was a covers album, and 2010’s Leave Your Sleep was an album of lullabies dedicated to her daughter. Finally, we have a new album of original material – 13 years after the last album of original material (and that one happens to be my personal favorite solo record from Ms. Merchant). So, how’s the new record stack up? Read on…

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The Doors – People Are Strange

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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.

The Doors can be a controversial topic among hip music lovers. Was Jim Morrison a drunken buffoon as some claimed?  (I’m thinking of Lester Bangs as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, may he RIP) Or was he a beat poet visionary? I’ve always leaned towards the latter, even if some of the drunken ramblings bring a smile to my face with their incomprehensible meanings.  Unfortunately, the music can sometimes get overlooked; such is the shadow that Jim Morrison casts. This is another band whose catalog is almost beyond criticism for me – the 6 albums recorded with Morrison on vocals are strange, passionate, and timeless. “People Are Strange” was released as a single in September of 1967, hitting #12 on the US Hot 100 charts. The music is a nod towards European cabaret, lending the tune an otherworldly vibe. At just over 2 minutes, the band (that’s Ray Manzarek on keyboards, John Densmore on drums, and Robby Krieger on guitar) locks into a groove that is essential for the song to make its impact felt. Jim Morrison seems to be relaying the feeling of what it is like not to fit in, to exist neither here nor there. One of my favorite songs by The Doors, everything connects perfectly. Some of my favorite lines…“When you’re strange / Faces come out of the rain / When you’re strange / No one remembers your name / When you’re strange”….”People are strange / When you’re a stranger / Faces look ugly when you’re alone”

The Smiths – William, It Was Really Nothing

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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.

If anything, the last piece on Electrafixion reminded me that I haven’t written anything about one of my favorite bands, The Smiths. I can easily trace the progression, looking back on when I was a 15-year-old wannabe hipster – John Lennon & The Beatles, The Cure, Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, and finally…The Smiths. The Smiths seemed to be an entire universe, a demographic of people. If someone knew The Smiths, you could be sure they were cool (indie hipster elitist alert!). The lyrics of Morrissey seemed to reach out to disaffected youth, the outsiders, the bookworms, the sensitive souls.  The music composed primarily by Johnny Marr was insanely memorable – a nice bonus. For me, it was a Godsend. I have fond memories of singing along to The Smiths at the top of my lungs. Some of those memories are from 20 years ago, some are from last week. How do I choose which song or album to feature, since I love everything? “William, It Was Really Nothing” was released as a non-album single in 1984. The lyrics may or may not be about Morrissey’s brief friendship with Billy MacKenzie, singer for the Associates (another band I adore). A jangly, catchy number, it features classic lyrics that you can sing along with after hearing the song just once. In other words, this is a quintessential song by The Smiths. The track hit #17 in the UK and was later re-released with different artwork as a single in 1988. The 12” record version of the 1988 release was etched with the statements “ROMANTIC AND SQUARE, ARE HIP AND AWARE” and “THE IMPOTENCE OF ERNEST”. The Peel Session version of this track was not included on the laughably titled The Smiths Complete box set, but you can find that on the 1987 single of “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me”. That one boasts a slightly fuller sound, and is a nice contrast to the original cut (I prefer the original). At any rate, these songs will apparently be packaged and repackaged endlessly – it doesn’t change the thrill of hearing Morrissey sing “Oh, the rain falls hard in a humdrum town / this town has dragged you down / And everybody’s got to live their life / and God knows I’ve got to live mine”

Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes

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Years ago, in the days before I really “got” Bruce Springsteen, I stopped by the Columbus Flea Market on my way to my Grandfather’s shore house on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. There’s no better way to start a trip to the shore – great food, thrifty deals, and old records. Browsing through the vinyl, I came across the 1st two Bruce Springsteen records. “Honey,” the woman in charge of the stand said “those early Bruce records are the essence of New Jersey. If you don’t have them, make sure you grab them.”. And so began a journey that continues to this day. A word to sum it up? Fanaticism.

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The Barmines – There’s Never Any Romance

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Brotherly love – I’m from the city that promotes it, but it isn’t always the easiest thing to live by. My brother and I are 3 years apart, which can be brutal during the teenage years. We had our moments of not getting along, though I’ll feign amnesia when asked if fists were ever raised. 15 years later we are worlds apart in New Zealand and Washington State. Pacific is the gulf between us. So it goes. In music, we’ve had the Gallagher brothers (Oasis), the brothers Gibb (Bee Gees), the Robinson brothers (The Black Crowes), among others. Sibling rivalry or sibling camaraderie? It doesn’t really matter as long as the music inspires. The Barmines are a new band out of Leeds, England composed of 2 sets of siblings. A potentially volatile mix, their debut EP is a masterful debut.

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The Pretty Things – Loneliest Person

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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.

The Pretty Things unfairly owe a bit of their fame to associations – bassist Dick Taylor was the original bassist for The Rolling Stones and David Bowie covered two gems by The Pretty Things for his 1973 covers record, Pin Ups. A shame they aren’t more of a household name – each of their albums from across their career offer up highlights that most bands would die for. 1968 saw the band releasing the very first Rock Opera with their S.F. Sorrow album – released a full year before The Who’s Tommy. As with most story based rock albums, the details can get a little confusing over the course of a record (though the gaps in the story were printed in the albums liner notes by way of paragraph like chapters). The story is very sad, involving a young man named Sebastian F. Sorrow whose dreams and aspirations do not turn out as planned. The album’s closing track, “Loneliest Person” is an acoustic masterpiece that just may be one of the saddest songs ever recorded. Phil May’s vocals are simply perfect, allowing the listener to empathize with the character’s plight by tapping into the universal feeling of wanting to be loved. Haven’t we all felt like S.F. Sorrow at some point? The track was released in 1969 as the flip side of “Baron Saturday”, also taken from the S.F. Sorrow album. The lyrics are simple but to the point, the chorus laying it all out there: “Yes, you might be the loneliest person in the world / You’ll never be as lonely as me”

Coffee Thoughts – An Interview With Amy Hill

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I recently had the chance to virtually sit down with Brighton, England’s Amy Hill, who recently released her debut album, Place of Mind. Amy’s record reminded me of the best bits from Jewel’s debut record, Pieces of You and is one of my favorite records of the year.

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