Song of the Day, April 24: One Day Like This by Elbow

elbowonedayToday’s song is the epic peak of a magnificent album. Elbow showed off all their musical styles and influences on their fourth disc, The Seldom Seen Kid. A tight, versatile band with smart lyrics, they explore their prog/art roots, love of solid pop, emphasis on dynamic range and variety, and clever sequencing.

One Day Like This finds singer Guy Garvey startled to find himself waxing optimistic. Life may be challenging, but somehow love has given him hope and strength.

What made me behave that way?
Using words I never say
I can only think it must be love
Oh, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day.

Gorgeous strings, aching keyboards, and a barely restrained rhythm section propel Garvey along through his pleasantly gobsmacked wonderings. Then he intones “Throw those curtains wide!”, letting in the sun and making the most of this startling feeling. That section repeats for a long fade with a powerful choir and a fun guitar figure that would be right at home on a Queen epic. It’s a delightful package.

Enjoy this amazing song today.

Song of the Day, April 21: You Can Close Your Eyes by Linda Ronstadt

ronstadtwheeleyesToday’s song is a multifaceted musical collaboration. James Taylor wrote You Can Close Your Eyes in 1970. He calls it a “secular hymn”, a touching meditation on loss and separation. The track appeared on his 1971 album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon and as the b-side of his #1 hit You’ve Got A Friend (written by Carole King). He has acknowledged that he wrote the song about his short, tumultuous affair with Joni Mitchell. The references to singing and sight are natural and poignant.

Linda Ronstadt included a cover of the song as the closing track of her finest album, Heart Like A Wheel. It’s a smart choice, and she makes the track her own. With a bittersweet delivery, she offers a sad farewell as she wraps up the disc. It’s a fine recording, nicely produced by Peter Asher and Andrew Gold, and a standout in her substantial catalog.

Enjoy this lovely song today.

BONUS: Enjoy this stirring version recorded by Taylor and Mitchell for the BBC.

Song of the Day, April 17: Congratulations by Jeffrey Osborne

osbornecongratulationsToday’s song is a powerful song of resignation. Jeffrey Osborne’s eponymous solo debut is a smart mix of tracks. Producer George Duke understood the array of talents the singer had to offer and assembled a mix of ballads, uptempo story songs, and funky tunes. Osborne co-wrote a number of the tracks, including the album closer, Congratulations. Written with Jeffrey Kerr, it’s one of his best songs.

Duke makes the most of stellar talent he collected, crafting a lush backdrop for the song. Osborne sings to a former lover, a woman whom he has just learned is about to be married. It’s a simple conceit, and the song could be trite or overblown in less capable hands. Instead, the production is just restrained enough, and Osborne’s delivery is aching and heartfelt. When he intones “life goes on I guess,” the emotion is real and palpable.

Enjoy this sad song today.

Album of the Week, April 16: Voyeur by Kim Carnes

CarnesSanityVoyeurKim Carnes took her time building her star status. The daughter of an attorney and a hospital administrator, she is that rare pop musician who grew up in a non-musical household. She always knew she wanted to be a singer and songwriter, however, and found other connections, like her childhood neighbor and lifelong friend, multi-instrumentalist David Lindley. In her early 20s she spent some time in the New Christy Minstrels where she met her husband, Dave Ellingson, and another musical pal, Kenny Rogers. After a stint writing for others and recording demos, she started recording her own albums. Her breakthrough came in 1980, when Rogers had Carnes and Ellingson write the songs for his concept album Gideon — including the #4 pop hit Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer, a Rogers/Carnes duet. She followed that with a Top 10 remake of Smokey Robinson’s More Love from her fifth album, a more dance-oriented track than her previous folky pop. As she assembled the material for her next disc, Mistaken Identity, she decided to cover a couple of songs written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss. One of those, Bette Davis Eyes, became a monster hit, spending nine weeks at #1 in a long chart run and becoming the second-biggest song of the 80s. Putting together the follow-up was a daunting task, but Carnes, Ellingson, and producer Val Garay managed to craft the finest album of her long career.

Title Voyeur
Act Kim Carnes
Label EMI Release Date September 1982
Producer Val Garay
U.S. Chart  #49 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Voyeur [#29]
  2. Looker
  3. Say You Don’t Know Me
  4. Does It Make You Remember? [#36]
  5. Breaking Away From Sanity
  6. Undertow
  7. Merc Man
  8. The Arrangement
  9. Thrill of the Grill
  10. Take It On the Chin

The 10 songs on Voyeur look at obsession and disappointment from a variety of angles, tied together with a smart, dark pop-dance style. The title track should have been a worthy chart successor to Bette Davis Eyes. Brooding and energetic at once, it alternates descriptions of the viewer and the viewee in a complicated relationship with no real contact. It’s a wonderful look at alienation and desire — and you can dance to it. Looker picks up the theme of beauty as an end in itself as well as the price that comes with it. The tracks make a smart pair and a strong start.

Say You Don’t Know Me is a creepy song of isolation and separation, a noirish tale with grim musical effects. Carnes smartly pivots to a different kind of separation with Does It Make You Remember?, an exploration of nostalgia and sorrow. It shows off her ability to deliver a heartfelt ballad while retaining the musical flavor of the album. Breaking Away From Sanity wraps up side one nicely, wistfully exploring the themes of the disc with fragile fatalism.

Undertow opens side two with swirling menace and a sinuous groove. Carnes and company then take a humorous turn with the swaggering tale of the Merc Man, an ordinary fellow given confidence by his powerful car. Things get darker again with The Arrangement, the story of a marriage whose foundations have long crumbled but whose habits linger on. It’s a smart bit of sequencing, the jarring nature of which is well suited to the album. Thrill of the Grill is another fun moment, an almost throwaway song about grabbing happiness — however fleeting — where you can find it. Carnes closes the album with one of its strongest moments, the sly kiss-off of Take It On the Chin. With its teasing vocal and light instrumentation, it almost sounds inviting, until it’s clear that the singer is quite done with her paramour.

Mistaken Identity was a hard commercial act to follow, with four weeks at #1 (largely thanks to the monster single), and Voyeur didn’t come close to that level, despite a couple of solid Top 40 hits. It’s a more satisfying listen, however, and benefits from more original compositions, solid sequencing, and a clear musical and thematic tone. In her long, quirky career, Kim Carnes has offered up many musical delights. This album is the highlight.

FURTHER LISTENING: Carnes’ first four albums are all decent folky pop with a few standout songs. Romance Dance — featuring More Love — is far more interesting but much less consistent. The same could be said of Mistaken Identity, which benefits from one magnificent song but is otherwise spotty. After Voyeur, Carnes released two solid albums — Café Racers and Barking At Airplanes — that rival her best disc for consistency but lack similar strongest moments. Since then she’s recorded sporadically, continuing to turn out interesting discs. The compilation Gypsy Honeymoon includes most of her hits but largely overlooks Voyeur, making the pair a solid way to enjoy her career.

Song of the Day, April 14: Detox Mansion by Warren Zevon

zevondetoxhygieneToday’s song finds a master storyteller making the most of his own life experience. Warren Zevon recorded only sporadically for much of his career, frequently derailed by substance abuse and stretches in rehab. After 1982’s solid offering, The Envoy, he disappeared for five years. When he returned, he did so with a vengeance. He hooked up with 3/4 of R.E.M. — guitarist Peter Buck, drummer Bill Berry, and bassist Mike Mills — and put together one of his best albums. Sentimental Hygiene is full of wonderful moments, but the best may be a jab at the artist himself.

Detox Mansion is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the 80s frenzy of stars in rehab. Zevon opens with the wonderful, “Well I’m gone to Detox Mansion, way down on Last Breath Farm. I’ve been rakin’ leaves with Liza; me and Liz clean up the yard.” The R.E.M. boys join in the fun, providing a surging energy for Zevon’s dark but funny observations. It’s a great package, and a highlight of a long career.

Zevon has touched on his troubles on other tracks as well. On The Envoy, he sang about the compelling need to feel anything. Ain’t That Pretty At All finds him pondering throwing himself against the wall — literally — because “I’d rather feel bad than not feel anything at all.” Grim but witty, it’s a darker take on similar themes.

Enjoy the exploration of Detox Mansion and a look at things that Ain’t That Pretty At All today.

Song of the Day, April 10: All I Know by Art Garfunkel

garfunkelalliknowToday’s song is a majestic tribute to love. When Simon and Garfunkel went their separate ways, Art Garfunkel took a little time to craft his solo debut. Angel Clare, produced by Garfunkel with long-time S&G partner Roy Halee, is a smart collection of songs that shows off the singer’s strong, flexible voice.

The highlight is the Jimmy Webb song All I Know, also Garfunkel’s first (and most successful) solo single. Soaring and anthemic, it looks at the transitory nature of life and relationships. In the face of this, the singer asserts, simply, “I love you, and that’s all I know.” It’s a smart construction, moving in its structure and delivery. After a full build with strings and horns, it drops so a simple piano line, emphasizing the need to focus on the basic truths in our lives. It’s a masterpiece of writing, singing, and production.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, April 7: The Fix by Elbow with Richard Hawley

elbowhawleyfixToday’s song is a wonderful collaboration. Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey met singer-songwriter Richard Hawley when they were both performing in Tennessee. They were on the same flight back to England and over “Battleship and drinks” struck up a friendship. They agreed to work together on a song, and the result is delightful.

The Fix, taken from Elbow’s stunning The Seldom Seen Kid, takes on a simple enough subject, fixing a horse race. Given the talent involved, however, the song itself is so much more. Featuring lines like “the redoubtable beast has had Pegasus pills”, it’s a lyrical tour-de-force. Garvey and Hawley’s voices blend delightfully, and the Elbow musicians provide a dark, swirling, mysterious backdrop for the tale. With eerie sound effects, subtle percussion, and off-kilter keyboards, it’s a magic musical ride.

The original version is stellar, but this live for broadcast version is even more amazing, showing off the band’s skill and featuring a tasty guitar solo from Hawley. Enjoy it today!

Song of the Day, April 3: Take It On the Chin by Kim Carnes

carneschinToday’s song wraps up a veteran singer’s finest album. After getting her start with the New Christy Minstrels, Kim Carnes released a series of decent folk-pop albums. In 1980, she hit the Top 10 twice, writing a duet recorded with Kenny Rogers (Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer) and performing a smart reinvention of Smokey Robinson’s More Love. She followed that up with a monster hit, the charming, infectious Bette Davis Eyes. That success proved hard to follow on the charts, but her next album was an artistic peak.

Voyeur is a consistent, cohesive set of songs, dark and brooding but essentially human. The final track is Carnes’ composition Take It On the Chin. A delightful kiss-off song, it shows off the singer’s wit and sass. She turns in a sharp vocal, making the most of her trademark rasp as she dissects a disappointing lover. As she bids him farewell, she doubts he can even live up to her expectations in departure.

Enjoy this fun song today.

Album of the Week, April 2: Jeffrey Osborne

JOsborneJeffrey Osborne was the born the youngest of twelve children in a musical family. His father was noted jazz trumpeter Clarence “Legs” Osborne, and many of his siblings went on to careers in music. Osborne began playing drums professionally while still in high school, working around his hometown of Providence, RI. A new R&B outfit called Love Men Ltd. recruited him while touring, and he joined the group, renamed L.T.D., in Los Angeles after graduation. His rich voice soon moved him out from behind the drum kit, and his brother Billy joined L.T.D. also on vocals and drums as well as keyboards. After nearly a decade of solid chart success with the band, Osborne wanted to write for other artists and explore occasional solo work. L.T.D. wasn’t interested in sharing his talents, so he left the band entirely, waiting a year for legal releases to come through while he planned his solo debut. During that time, he hooked up with jazz multi-instrumentalist and producer George Duke, who agreed to helm the project. Duke’s diverse talents — and his many friends and connections — allowed the singer to make the most of his own strengths, resulting in a powerful first release.

Title Jeffrey Osborne
Act Jeffrey Osborne
Label A & M Release Date 1982
Producer George Duke
U.S. Chart  #49 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. New Love
  2. Eenie Meenie [#76]
  3. I Really Don’t Need No Light [#39]
  4. On the Wings of Love [#29]
  5. Ready For Your Love
  6. Who You Talkin’ To?
  7. You Were Made to Love
  8. Ain’t Nothin’ Missin’
  9. Baby
  10. Congratulations

Duke and Osborne set the stage perfectly with New Love. It’s a joyous blast of romantic optimism, featuring nice horn work and a tight rhythm section. A well-produced choir provide harmonies, providing a rich backdrop for Osborne’s exuberant vocal. The track is a nice kickoff and a great declaration of musical independence. Eenie Meenie is a darker track with a soulful groove. Telling the tale of a romance broken once too often, it features bright strings and elegant percussion. Osborne sings of knowing when something is finally over, conveying sorrow without being broken.

The masterpiece of the disc is the searing I Really Don’t Need No Light. The first single, it showed off everything Osborne learned in his time touring with the band and his new confidence in his own right. It’s a great kiss-off song with smart lyrics; Duke’s production makes the most of Osborne’s distinctive phrasing, and the whole package is a perfect example of timeless dance pop. The next hit took a very different approach. On the Wings of Love is a delightful celebration song. Driven by a blend of keyboards and subtle strings, it’s a joyous ballad of hope and love. The subtle touches — like the snare riff in the chorus — provide texture that helps it rise above the typical happy pop love song.

Ready For Your Love is a smoldering dance track, with Osborne singing his regrets about almost letting romance slip away. He offers a grittier vocal than usual, adding variety to the disc and energy to the song. Duke’s sequencing of the album is part of its magic, and offering the jazzy showcase of Who You Talkin’ To? next is a fine example. With sassy horns, a searing guitar solo, engaging treated vocal backing, and a tight, band, it’s a big, bossy number. Osborne clearly has fun with it. You Were Made to Love is fine, but something of a letdown. A fluffy slow dance love song, it features a nice vocal but some frankly silly lyrics. Fortunately, Ain’t Nothin’ Missin’ blasts in with joyful energy. A track of unadulterated happiness, it features fun do-do-do backing vocals and one of Osborne’s best leads.

Baby is a swirling torch song, reminiscent of Al Green. It’s lyrically slight, but Duke and Osborne treat it with respect, turning in something surprising. Things wrap up with the remarkable Congratulations. Sung to a former lover as she prepares for her wedding, it could be a syrupy weeper. Instead, it’s treated with restraint, a slow, bare start that builds gradually, almost sneaking up on the listener. Osborne’s great phrasing makes the most of the telling line “Life goes on, I guess”, capturing the heart of the song. It’s a perfect wrap-up to a solid outing.

FURTHER LISTENING: Jeffrey Osborne continued to release solid, fun albums for a decade. His sophomore effort, Stay With Me Tonight, is nearly as good as the debut and a personal favorite. Don’t Stop follows the Duke/Osborne formula with diminishing returns but is still very worthwhile. From there, things are a mixed bag. Osborne’s voice is always amazing however, and his sense of musicality is so strong that he makes the most of even the weaker material. For the casual fan, the Ultimate Collection actually lives up to its name, offering 17 great songs including his best work with L.T.D.

Song of the Day, March 31: Streets of Your Town by Bryndle

bryndleToday’s song features on the realization of a long-deferred dream. In 1969, four like-minded musicians got together as Bryndle. Karla Bonoff, Kenny Edwards, Andrew Gold, and Wendy Waldman all had an interest in country-tinged folk-pop and great craftsmanship. They signed with A&M and recorded an album. Only a single was released however, and the lack of a strong response to their carefully crafted recording broke up the band and shelved the album.

Over the next two decades, all four found success as writers, singers, producers, and session musicians, including shared projects with Linda Ronstadt. Finally, in 1995, they gathered again and recorded an eponymous debut — a quarter century after their first try. The result was magical, with the intervening years honing their talents. Regular collaborators, they meshed even better than they had in 1970. Bryndle is a fine album without a dull moment.

The standout was written by Gold with folk singer Jenny Yates. Streets of Your Town is a fun road song and tale of frustrated romance. It’s energetic and compelling, making the most of the fine group harmonies and solid musical talents of the quartet.

Enjoy this fun song today.

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