Vince’s top 5 songs of the month
1. Bill Callahan – “The Breeze/My Baby Cries” – This 2009 track is part of a tribute album called Loving Takes This Course, which looks at the music of late ’70s/early 80s cult-singer/songwriter Kath Bloom. Callahan’s eternally mournful baritone, while limited in range, is matchless in phrasing and depth. He rings all the emotion out of this desperate, lilting track which moves with a deliberate pace that ebbs and flows over subtle piano and acoustic guitar. The result is a gorgeous contemplation on what it feels like to be detached and lonely yet somehow still optimistic. “Just remember. I want to help you. I don’t want to hurt you … so don’t tear it apart.”
2. John Cale – “Hanky Panky Nohow” – Cale is best known as an integral part of the Velvet Underground’s formative years, but in 1973, a few years after leaving the band, Cale released “Paris 1919,” a masterpiece of baroque folk music. This track is given a lift from a simple but lovely string arrangement and Cale’s gentle, emotive voice. A lonely tambourine comes in around the minute and a half mark, perfectly timed to provide momentum into the repeating chorus.
3. Grateful Dead – “Brown-Eyed Woman” – It might be easy to condescend to the Grateful Dead. The group could be notoriously sloppy as a live act, and their jams sometimes wandered aimlessly. This live track is taken from the expanded edition of the band’s famous Europe ’72 tour album. Recorded in Denmark, the song proves that the band was capable of truly inspired songwriting. Jerry Garcia has never sounded better on vocals, and the group’s harmonies, often troublingly out-of-tune, are spot-on in this version. Jerry’s simple lead guitar demonstrates excellent restraint, never getting noodly or wayward. Phil Lesh’s bass bubbles all over the beat, often carrying the melody. This one is a pleasure to listen to.
4. Dan Bern – “Wasteland” – Occasionally a song comes along that cuts you right to the core. Dan Bern’s “Wasteland” is one of those songs. Bern is a criminally underrated songwriter. Early in his career he was labeled as “the next Bob Dylan,” a burdening and unfair expectation for any songwriter to be saddled with. Since his debut, he has toured relentlessly, often in very small towns in states where few songwriters venture (Alaska). Bern has a dark, sometimes playful sense of humor that melds seamlessly with his earnest and always incisive cultural commentary. This song is a smart evisceration of Los Angeles celebrity culture, a sad, forlorn lament, and a personal reflection on those things in life worth valuing.
5. Magnolia Electric Co. – “O! Grace” – This was one of the first songs I listened to after hearing about the untimely death of frontman Jason Molina. Molina has one of the saddest voices I’ve ever heard. The song contains some of his finest lyrics, which are at once hopless-sounding (i.e. “I’ve been as lonesome as the world’s first ghost, but out here even the prairie doubts the horizon. All I have to do is prove that I’m not pure. Oh, the right words come, but I ain’t talkin'”), but the song is also unexpectedly hopeful. The protagonist is a restless heart to be sure, but the song’s sunny chorus provides a glimmer of optimism. We get the sense he might find what’s he’s looking for after all.
(Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Co.)
Written by Vince Meserko. Tune into Hickory Wind every Monday from 8-10pm on 90.7fm KJHK.