Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #49 - "Your Dog," Soccer Mommy

From time to time, people ask me where I find the music in my collection.  Back in the old days, it was different - there were several Tower Records stores in town, and after that Dimple Records.  Browsing through the stacks of records (CDs later, but that was never as much fun) is one of the best memories of my lifetime.  Sometimes, I'd buy an album based solely on the album cover - The Pretenders' debut album comes to mind.  When you looked at that cover, how could you not think "this is going to be good?" 

Well, those days are over, and in this town (Sacramento) there's no longer a store that stocks enough records or CDs to make browsing worth one's time (or even possible, for that matter).  Today, I rely on several different online publications - Pitchfork, American Songwriter, No Depression, even Rolling Stone at times (especially when Rob Sheffield is writing) - for recommendations on new artists, or artists I'm not familiar with.  And then there are the old reliables, and in this case I do mean old - Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau.  Marcus doesn't write album reviews much any more, but his Real Life Rock Top Ten - wherever it may be residing at any given moment - has always been an indispensable source of what I'd call "fringe music."  And Christgau, nearing 80 now, is still plugging away with a new version of his Consumer Guide, which he is now publishing using a subscription model.

What does any of this have to do with Soccer Mommy?  Think of it as a roadmap - in order to discover an artist like Soccer Mommy (real name: Sophie Allison), you've got to put in the work.  And in this case, it was well worth the effort.  The album "Clean" took a few listens to sink in for me, but "Your Dog" made an impression right away.  It's the kind of song where you catch a fragment of a lyric on first listen, and then you're almost afraid to find out what it's all about.  As this piece on NPR notes, "It's a song reclaiming agency and identity taken by another person's condescension, control and abuse."  That tells you what you need to know.

Think of it as the link between Liz Phair and Taylor Swift.  

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #49 - "Your Dog," Soccer Mommy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Top 50 Songs of the Decade

First of all, before anyone decides to give me a hard time with the "the decade of the 2010s didn't start until 2011" argument, I'm using the definition of "decade" which  simply states, "a period of ten years."

It took a little longer than expected to winnow the list down to 50 (there were some really painful cuts involved; I'm very sorry, Cardi B), but it's ready to go, so this little series will carry the blog through the end of the year.  Counting down, Casey Kasem style, my Top 50 Songs of the Decade.  If you don't see and hear something you enjoy, then you need to work on your musical tastes.

We begin the countdown with a living legend:

My parents and aunts took me to see Willie Nelson for my 21st birthday, which for those keeping track, was 38 years ago.  He was a grizzled veteran then, so I'm not even sure what to call him now.  But he's still writing great songs, still singing great songs, and by all appearances, still smoking only the best weed.

"Me and You," Willie Nelson (2018).   The old man clearly has an astute observation or two left up his sleeve.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

More on The Highwomen

One sign of a great album is that you keep changing your mind about which song is the best.

Right now, "My Only Child" fits that bill for me on "The Highwomen."  And shame on me for not even mentioning it in my previous post.

Co-written by Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires, and Miranda Lambert, it's the only song on the album that features a lead vocal by Hemby.

It's a magnificent song.  And the more I listen to and think about the album, the more it becomes a contender for my favorite album of 2019.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Highwomen: Setting a Crowded Table

We are the highwomen, we sing stories still untold
We carry the sons you can only hold
We are the daughters of the silent generations
You sent our hearts to die alone in foreign nations
It may return to us as tiny drops of rain
But we will still remain

The Highwomen are one of the year's best music stories.  From left to right on the album cover, the group is comprised of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires.  If not exactly household words, all four have been very successful artists in their own right - Hemby primarily as a songwriter, the other three as singers and songwriters.  Carlile, Shires and Morris have all recorded excellent albums in the past year.  But over time, this album may come to be viewed as their legacy.

I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we're young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done

It's not news that the country radio establishment has been shutting out the best women artists for a long time.  You could call "The Highwomen" a concept album in response to that unfortunate situation, but it's less a direct response than an alternative.  As Shires put it recently in an interview, the four came together with the desire to be inclusive.  When you listen to songs like "Crowded Table" (lyrics above) and "Redesigning Women," that theme is readily apparent.  Again proving the point, guests like Sheryl Crow and Yola show up on a couple of the album's tracks, and the video for "Redesigning Women" (see below) features a number of their fellow artists, including Tanya Tucker and Wynonna Judd.

But as strong as the concept is, having a strong concept wouldn't mean anything unless it was accompanied by a strong set of songs.  On that score, the album is a complete success.  Each artist brings their own style to the table, but the best songs are those that meld their strengths, and even more importantly, their voices.  In addition to the songs above, highlights include "Highwomen," which revisits (with his blessing)  the Jimmy Webb tune that provided The Highwaymen (Cash, Nelson, Jennings and Kristofferson) with their moniker; "Old Soul," which just might be the best song that Maren Morris has recorded to date; and "Wheels of Laredo," the album closer.  But every song is good, and there's plenty of humor (much of it self-deprecating) to go around.

Without a doubt, one of the notable albums of the year.

Thursday, October 03, 2019


Deep down, my guess is that the effort to save Sports Illustrated is doomed to fail.  On the one hand, it's not that difficult to understand - the magazine has been a shadow of its former self for a while now, which has been the case for many formerly great weekly periodicals.  It's now a biweekly publication, and the days are long past when the stories have the same kind of immediacy they did back in the pre-Internet era. 

But on the other hand, the thinking that goes into this kind of decision on the part of TheMaven makes no sense to me.  My son has now worked for two companies in the past year that were acquired by a larger company, with the only apparent purpose seeming to be to run the business into the ground and then sell the spare parts for profit.  Someone must be making a lot of money from these types of business strategies, but there doesn't seem to be much point to the exercise, aside from that.

If we are near the end of Sports Illustrated, that is something worth mourning.  For more than 60 years, the magazine was a source of incredible writing, and incredible photography.  There are a dozen or so boxes sitting out in my garage, and inside of them are old copies of Sports Illustrated, going all the way back to 1969.  Sports Illustrated has been an important part - a formative part - of my life.  Its legacy will live on through the former writers who go on to work in other venues, but even if that happens (and it has already happened in some instances), it just won't be the same.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Farewell, Bruce Bochy

Confession time - when Bruce Bochy was manager of the San Diego Padres, I couldn't stand the man.  My ire was directed more at the narrative that was constructed around him at the time.  He was a "genius!" And when you watched a baseball game during that era - and in this instance, I'm thinking more of the national telecasts than the local broadcasts with Kruk & Kuip, or Jon Miller - you could not go more than an inning or two without some commentary about whatever managerial move Bochy was making, and how that particular move manifested some type of rare genius.

It was annoying, and it got bad enough that when the Padres faced the best Yankees team in decades during the 1998 World Series, I actually rooted for the Yankees - which went against every fiber of my sports fan being, which has always been attracted to the underdog, unless one of the combatants is my team (or a team that I can't stand).  And when a managerial blunder (defined by Bill James as an out of the ordinary move that doesn't work) cost the Padres a game...well, let's just say I didn't feel too bad about it.

So when the Giants announced in October 2006 that they were bringing Bochy on board to succeed Felipe Alou, you didn't see me jumping for joy.  And after two seasons of more than 90 losses, it seemed just a matter of time before the Giants would be looking for Bochy's successor.  But things turned in a positive direction the following year, thanks in large part to the skinny kid in the above photo, a pitcher who looked like his arm might fall off every time he took the mound.  He's not going to make the Hall of Fame, but for a 3-4 year period, he was as good a pitcher as anyone has ever seen.  There's a bobblehead of him in my office, and he's holding his two Cy Young Awards.  Not too shabby.

And then the following year, a World Series Championship that seemed as if it would never come - at least not during my lifetime.  That was the year of torture, as the Giants found new ways to make things more dramatic than they needed to be.  Throughout it all, Bochy was the rock around which everyone would gather.  It was a glorious time.  And when it happened again in 2012 - the "never say die" year - and 2014, the year we were probably the 7th or 8th best team in baseball, we were well into territory that would have seemed corny even for a Hollywood movie.

The last few seasons haven't been that great, but so what?  How many baseball fans can say that they got to see their team bring home the trophy three times in five years?  And no matter important one believes a manager to be to a team's success, you can't argue with what Bruce Bochy has been able to accomplish.  You could call it luck, I suppose - but the way that he squeezed the best out of his players, including many that people had given up on, you have to give him credit.  He was able to do what few before him were able to do.  And he didn't need to be a genius - he just needed to be Bruce Bochy.

At the end of the day, Bochy's bust will be in Cooperstown, and that honor will be well deserved.