Song of the Day, May 31: Snowflakes In the Sun by Eddi Reader

ReaderSnowflakesToday’s song is an inspired collaboration. Eddi Reader recorded her 2013 album Vagabond in a series of relaxed sessions, working with an extended band of friends. The result is a delight, blending many styles into a fun, cohesive whole. One of the best tracks was written by Reader with husband John Douglas and long-time collaborator Boo Hewerdine while the sessions were underway. Reader describes Snowflakes In the Sun in the liner notes.

Started by Boo, with John having a hand in the chords of it. Boo wrote some lyrics and a bonny melody that I cherry-picked and we all played it one night in my home. This is the first take.

That speaks volumes about the collaborative energy of the trio. A quiet, jazzy folk number, the song sounds just like that description — timeless magic. The lyrics are bittersweet observations of loss, told poetically. The instruments are light and gentle, and Reader’s vocal is powerful in its restraint. This is a fine moment in impressive careers.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

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Song of the Day, October 30: It’s A Beautiful Night by Eddi Reader

ReaderVagaBeautifulToday’s song is It’s A Beautiful Night, written by Boo Hewerdine for his 2009 album God Bless the Pretty Things. In 2013, his longtime friend and frequent musical collaborator Eddi Reader began working on Vagabond, one of her finest albums. She gathered a number of friends — including Hewerdine — and recorded a set of original songs and covers that had special meaning for her. The result was a casual but cohesive disc that captures her wonderful voice and shows off her flawless sense of song selection. With the album’s themes of wandering, loving, losing, and making the most of life, this is the perfect closing track. As Reader observes in the liner notes:

The theme of finding beauty in the moment is something that is very important to me. [Boo] nailed it in this lyric… A song to sing as dawn is approaching while you’re draped over a piano. Or waltzing with the company of old companions. This is for all the players and Mark for making these sessions some of the most beautiful nights of my life.

That sums up the feel of the song — and the album — perfectly. It’s rare that anyone outshines Hewerdine on his own songs, but Reader simply nails the observational beauty and casual joy of this track. Enjoy a perfect celebration today.

Song of the Day, July 21: Joke (I’m Laughing) by Eddi Reader

ReaderJokeToday’s song is Joke (I’m Laughing) by Eddi Reader. Taken from her second, eponymous solo album, it was written by longtime friend and collaborator Boo Hewerdine. Darkly ironic, it reflects on romantic betrayal, with the singer demanding an explanation, hoping against hope that the situation is a misunderstanding or a badly planned prank. With Reader’s beautiful, powerful voice, every anguished nuance shines with the fears, anger, and dashed hopes that resonate through the masterful lyrics.

D’you hear the one about
The one you filled with doubt?
Was it worth your while?

The way you kick a life around
Deserving to be underground
What is this?
Explain

Joke, is it some kind of joke?
Joke, I’m laughing, I’m laughing

Enjoy this brilliantly crafted song today.

Song of the Day, April 3: Falling Backwards by Fairground Attraction

FairgroundFallingToday’s song is Falling Backwards by Fairground Attraction. Recorded as the band prepared for a second album, the song was nearly lost when vocalist Eddi Reader moved on to a solo career. Fortunately, the CD reissue of the brilliant First of A Million Kisses included this gem as a bonus track.

It’s right at home with the diverse folk-pop of the band’s stellar debut. Mark E. Nevin writes a great song, and Falling Backwards is no exception. Juxtaposing independence — or sometimes stubbornness — with the pull of a great romance, he creates a wonderful tension. Reader is at her vocal finest, teasing the slow lines and bursting with palpable joy as she surrenders to passion.

I resisted and I can be stubborn
but my resistance just crumbled away
and now I’m falling backwards
into your arms again

Enjoy this standout performance from a sadly short-lived band today.

Song of the Day, December 26: The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright III

LoudonWainwrightSwimmingSongToday’s song is The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright III. It leads off his fourth album, 1973’s Attempted Mustache. The track is classic Wainwright, blending a country-tinged sound with his witty wordplay and sharp observations. A simple set of images about summer fun in the water, the vignettes come together into a joyous whole, with Wainwright capturing a wonderful sense of celebration. The lyrics are so well crafted that the listener can see the sunlight and hear the splashing as the singer enjoys himself. Forty years on, The Swimming Song has become one of Wainwright’s most beloved songs.

This summer I swam in a public place
And a reservoir, to boot,
At the latter I was informal,
At the former I wore my suit, I wore my swimming suit.

The song has been covered many times. The finest renderings include:

  • A stunning cover recorded in 1975 by his then wife, Kate McGarrigle, and her sister, Anna for their debut album.
  • Fairport Convention included a charming version on their acoustic album Old, New, Borrowed, Blue in 1996.
  • When Eddi Reader left Fairground Attraction, she included a simple cover on her first album, Mirmama.

Wainwright’s original remains the definitive version, however. Enjoy this sweet reminder of summer today.

Song of the Day, October 14: Fragile Thing by Big Country with Eddi Reader

BigCoFragileReaderToday’s song is Fragile Thing. It appears on Big Country’s eighth album, Driving to Damascus, the last to feature vocalist and guitarist Stuart Adamson. He moved to Nashville to start a solo career and died two years later. Although the band largely disappeared from US attention after their first hit, the maintained a solid career in the UK and Europe, racking up a steady stream of hit albums and singles. Fragile Thing would prove to be their last charting single in Britain.

It’s a beautiful song about love and distance. Adamson’s voice was as powerful as ever, but he knew how to wrap it around a ballad and shows that off to great effect here. Fellow Scot Eddi Reader lends her wonderful voice to the chorus, striking a perfect counterpoint to Adamson. Their subtle burrs and complementary ranges are sinuous together, and the result shows the strength in the seemingly fragile.

I could walk a thousand miles tonight
And never find my place
At least until it gets too light
To hide my tearful face

Love is a small and fragile thing
I spend a lot of cold nights missing you

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Album of the Week, April 7: The First of A Million Kisses by Fairground Attraction

FirstofaMillionThe British band Fairground Attraction started out with a bang. Scottish singer and songwriter Eddi Reader has a stunning voice with a wide, clear range. Welsh guitarist Mark Nevin is a talented songwriter and a sympathetic accompanist. The English rhythm section of Simon Edwards (guitaron and bass) and Roy Dodds (percussion) round things out nicely. They had a lovely neo-Skiffle sound, mostly acoustic and centered on Nevin’s strong songs and Reader’s incomparable voice. In early 1988 they blasted onto the British charts with their debut album (entering at #3) and the #1 smash Perfect. Four singles and a failed attempt at recording a follow-up album later, the Attraction was packed up. Their brief association left us with one of the finest albums of the 80s, however.

Title The First of A Million Kisses
Act Fairground Attraction
Label RCA Release Date  5/1/1988
Producer Fairground Attraction with Kevin Maloney
U.S. Chart  #62 U.K. Chart  #2
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. A Smile In A Whisper
  2. Perfect [#80]
  3. Moon On the Rain
  4. Find My Love
  5. Fairground Attraction
  6. The Wind Knows My Name
  7. Clare
  8. Comedy Waltz
  9. The Moon Is Mine
  10. Station Street
  11. Whispers
  12. Allelujah

Things kick of delightfully with A Smile In A Whisper a perfect introduction to the band’s sound. Bright and chiming, it is a celebration of love and happiness with some of Nevin’s finest lyrics and a spot-on delivery by Reader. The light acoustic sound introduces the album nicely and it’s clear how much fun the band have making their music.

That spirit takes center stage in the second song, their massive international hit Perfect. A joyous demand for the love we deserve, it’s infectious pop at its best. The band is in sync and Reader bounces jauntily through the lyrics. The title promises a lot, and the song truly delivers. Although it barely dented the U.S. charts (making Fairground Attraction a true One Hit Wonder), it #1 at home as well as Australia and South Africa and a big hit in Japan and New Zealand. It featured a celebratory video, won a BRIT award, and set high expectations for the band.

The album has a number of lyrical themes that recur. Language (especially whispering), the moon, and the weather make many appearances, tying the songs together along with the beautifully consistent sound. The third track, Moon On the Rain, introduces two of these themes with a wistful air. Reader repeats the entreaty “Ah, Sweetheart” throughout as a delicate accordion line winds through the tune. Things turn hopeful in Find My Love, a flamenco tinged number that has the singer showing off her range as she seeks her ideal match.

The album lacks a title track, but does feature the song that named the band. Fairground Attraction is a dark, haunting song, much more funhouse mirrors than merry-go-rounds. Creepy fairground music accompanies Reader as she tells the sad tale of a doomed love and a fortune teller’s warning. Weather blows back in with The Wind Knows My Name, a song of restless longing. Unwanted knowledge resurfaces in Clare, a song about a voodoo priestess from New Orleans who has stolen the singer’s lover. Reader’s desperate ache merges with the jazzy clarinet to conjure up the Mississippi delta.

Comedy Waltz is another ironic title, with the singer longing for relief from the news of the world and the nasty people who surround her. Things rise from there with The Moon Is Mine, a song of determination. It’s a lovely insistence that no matter what may befall the singer, there is hope to be had, even if it is just the joy of moonlight. Station Street is a sad, elliptical tale of a stranded child with references to war and isolation, disturbing but effective.

Reader’s one writing contribution is Whispers, another homage to storytelling and mysteries. It’s a real showcase for her vocals as she scats and soars around the haunting words. The album wraps up with another song of promise, the lovely Allelujah. It’s a sweet song about a shy couple who see each other every day and are finally ready to risk love, promising the album title’s “first of a million kisses.” That wraps up the great package on a high note, twelve quietly diverse tracks with great lyrics, lovely singing, and superb musicianship.

CD and digital releases include two bonus tracks which are actually two of the finer songs. Mythology is another dark song, nicely reflecting the doubts of a woman burned by promises of love. Falling Backwards is a burst of joy much like Perfect, a celebration of love and hope with an infectious groove. Unlike many CD releases that pack in filler, these truly enhance the overall experience of the album.

FURTHER LISTENING: The band disintegrated during the sessions for its second album, Ay Fond Kiss. Reader left early and the disc was a hodgepodge of B-sides and skeletal tracks around promising Nevin compositions. He later joined with Irish singer Brian Kennedy as the one-off duo Sweetmouth to give these songs life. It’s a solid disc but lacks the magic of Fairground Attraction. Nevin also works extensively as a songwriter, collaborating with Kirsty MacColl and others.

Eddi Reader launched a solid solo career after leaving the band. She occasionally pairs with Nevin and frequently works with other strong partners like Boo Hewerdine. Her albums range from homages to Robert Burns to sweet, simple acoustic discs to complex pop. The finest is 1998’s Angels and Electricity, a brilliant mix of songwriting and beautiful singing.

Song of the Day, January 23: Bell Book and Candle by Eddi Reader

ReaderBBCToday’s song is Bell Book and Candle by Eddi Reader. Written by her frequent collaborator Boo Hewerdine, it appeared on her fourth solo album, 1998’s lovely Angels and Electricity. It’s a quietly beautiful song, and Reader’s wonderful voice delivers the wistful lyrics with sad passion.

The title derives from an ancient Catholic ritual for excommunication which used the three title elements to bar the sinner’s soul from the afterlife. Over time, the phrase has taken on a broader mystical meaning, implying a ceremony to keep a harmful spirit away. In this case, that spirit is the painful memory of a lost love. This memory is so powerful that Reader must resort to magical forces to find peace.

White horses on a troubled sea
Your smile will flash through time
Up ahead a blackbird’s wing
Your hair will come to mind
Every night I see your face when I have to pray
I need a bell, book and candle to keep your ghost away

Enjoy this sad and lovely song today.

Song of the Day, July 24: Prayer Wheel by Eddi Reader

Today’s song is Prayer Wheel by Eddi Reader. Written with longtime collaborator Boo Hewerdine, the song appears on her 1999 album Angels and Electricity. It fits neatly into both singers’ collection of songs about fragile relationships, expressing doubt about a lover’s intentions. Using the Buddhist tradition of spinning a wheel of prayers to balance Karma and achieve enlightenment, Reader hopes for a mechanism to stay in her absent beau’s thoughts.

You don’t seem too glad to see me
Is it a bad time?
Is there somewhere you’d rather be?
Well it’s about time
Don’t forget about me, don’t forget about me
Spin a prayer wheel for me sometimes
Don’t let me slip out of your mind

Enjoy this clever and energetic song of wistful thinking today.

Song of the Day, August 28: The Right Place by Eddi Reader

Today’s song is The Right Place by Eddi Reader. The lead-off track from her first proper solo album after leaving Fairground Attraction, the song was written by her former bandmate and frequent collaborator Mark E. Nevin. Eddi is in fine voice with this beautiful love song (which always makes me think of my husband, Michael.)

I’ve been in the wrong place, I’ve been in the wrong place
Long enough to know I’m in the right place now.

The song is filled with beautiful imagery and a wonderful sense of hope. Please enjoy this lovely song and wish Sadenia Reader a happy 52nd birthday today.

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