Priest Picks #7: Our Weekly Top 10
Welcome to week #7 of the Pickled Priest Top 10! The Priest has been busy this week anointing songs and records, baptizing new artists, acknowledging old influences, excommunicating Dave Matthews, checking in with some long un-played records, and I even had time to sell some indulgences to some lapsed Catholics, too. Suckers! Hope you enjoy this week’s stash.
1. DAN REEDER / Every Which Way
John Prine personally signed singer/ song-writer/visual artist Dan Reeder to his label, Oh Boy Records, in the early 2000s after giving his demo a listen and it’s easy to hear why there was an immediate attraction. Birds of a feather flock together as the saying goes. While Prine is in a league all his own and ranks with the greatest songwriters ever, Reeder’s mind, too, thinks in its own peculiar way. His latest record, Every Which Way, is somehow both leisurely paced and efficient simultaneously, zipping through 20 songs in 39 minutes with topics all over the map. He’s a miniaturist at heart—there’s not a moment of fat anywhere on this record. He has a way of presenting small slices of life in songs that average 2-minutes in length (the longest being three) without sacrificing the heart and humor in each. His voice is pleasingly low-key and coarse (he’s now 66), his melodies well-crafted (they can’t afford not to be), and his dry sense of humor never is more than a couple minutes away. I assure you this; once you enter his weird little world, you won’t want to leave. His songs settle in for a spell, like a welcome neighbor stopping buy with an acoustic guitar on a lazy afternoon. I can easily see John and Dan whiling away some time (Prine claimed he was a master of the art of time wasting) by trading songs on the front porch, laughing their asses off while downing a couple vodka ginger ales. Initially, you might think Reeder to be a novelty act, but while there are moments of clear comic relief (“Yodel Song” and “Porn Song”) there are also moments of touching beauty (“Raft to Freedom” and “A Place on the River”) that provide another dimension to his songwriting. When I first listened to Every Which Way I was sad when it ended. I was excited to write about the album this week and I originally wrote this entry with details of my favorite moments, and some amusing lyrics, but then I realized I had to delete the whole section. You deserve to discover Dan Reeder on your own terms.
2. TROUSER PRESS WEBSITE RE-LAUNCH
I cannot overstate the influence of The Trouser Press Record Guides* on me during my formative years and they are still, to this day, my most valued sources of music criticism. I have at least one volume in active rotation at all times (you can read a few entries whilst on the can or sneak one in before bedtime). There’s no way to estimate the number of new bands and records I was first alerted to by editor Ira Robbins or his crew of writers. (I read the Trouser Press Guide to 90’s Rock so often that my dog Molly chewed the cover off in a jealous rage once when I left it on my nightstand.) Robbins’ writing and editing style was equally influential—knowledgeable, economical, and slyly witty simultaneously—a style I try (stress “try”) to emulate to this day. He made talking about records seem effortless and casual, like a music fanatic shooting the shit with his pals while queued up for Elvis Costello tickets. Prior to producing the Guides, Robbins ran the Anglophilic Trouser Press magazine from 1974 to 1984 and I am pleased to report all issues are now available for reading online at trouserpress.com. Beware: expect to “lose time” once you start delving in. All of the Trouser Press Guides are also available online and have been for a while, however they’ve now reformatted the entries for easy navigation. Even though the enterprise isn’t currently adding new content** (I hold out hope for a return) the body of work speaks for itself and is absolutely essential reading for all open-minded rock and roll fans who want to discover music beyond what’s normally found on classic radio stations. Or, if you want to read a different perspective on some well-known bands, there’s that too.***
*A brief listing of titles: The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records, The New Trouser Press Record Guide, The Trouser Press Record Guide, and The Trouser Press Guide to 90’s Rock.
**On a happier note, I have just obtained a copy of Ira Robbins’ new 70’s-themed novel titled Marc Bolan Killed in Car Crash (released in late April) and will report back soon, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
***For example, check out their brilliant intro to the section on Nirvana:
“The teen spirit that is always a component of the ether can hover for years without coalescing into anything more than a haze — that vague, uneasy, something-in-the-air feeling rising like swamp gas as a byproduct of living young and unsteady in a hostile world that hasn’t yet made its intentions clear. But it can also go off with a spectacular atmospheric bang. The catalysts that ignite such cultural explosions rarely survive the experience, and the havoc they instigate is invariably all out of proportion to their efforts. But the changes so wrought can be vast, leveling the land and ushering in an era to which old rules no longer apply.”
3. LUCY AND THE RATS / “Dark Clouds”
Welcome to one of my favorite little discoveries of 2020 so far. Lucy and the Rats’ (now based on London, Lucy originally from Australia) have a new album, Got Lucky, out in early July and based
on “Dark Clouds” it’ll get some attention from folks who love their power-pop with a little late-70s/early 80s spunk. Even the cover screams “cult classic” (a la the Ramones debut) and I like to think I have a sixth sense for these things by now. Who cares if the style has been done before—it’s how they’re doing it, not what they’re doing that’s truly important. That’s how rock & roll works! “Dark Clouds” ironically seems to be a perfect song for a zipping around in a convertible on a sunny day. Just don’t hang with the girl in the song, who is going through a bad luck streak similar to The Flintstones’ Shleprock (see photo).
4. EXBATS / "I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts" & Kicks, Hits, & Fits
Exbats is a father-daughter group (plus friend) from Bisbee, Arizona, a town of less than six thousand people (that’s presumably why dad Kenny bought her a set of drums when she was 10 and said “We’re starting a band!”). I stumbled onto this record after hearing “I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts” a low-key, but super charming single that, for once, actually lives up to its title. Hurray! It’s a swell little tribute to “the most dapper man in rock” only made a little creepy by the 59 year age differential between Watts and twenty-year-old singer/drummer Inez McLain. Inez has a great voice for the band’s material (garage-pop with a 60s girl-group vibe) and there’s a DIY spirit permeating every song on the record that’s infectious. In a fair world, we’d all be listening to “You Don’t Get It (You Don’t Got It)” instead of whatever pap we’ve trying to torture our ears with today. The whole record is a little diamond in the rough that’ll make you smile and tap your foot along the way. It a promising start, but you wonder how long a family band can last if things suddenly take off. During “Charlie Watts” Inez sings “I wanna see the world from my drums” and if she and dad can hold it together, she might just get her wish!
Note: Could the cover be an homage to 60's sitcom My Three Sons? (See photo above.) If so, I assume Kenny gets the credit, but I'd love to know for sure. It even has the wingtip shoe to the right.
5. JEREMY CUNNINGHAM / The Weather Up There
Writing about this record is difficult. It involves two things I admit to knowing very little about relative to many others—grief and jazz. Mentioning grief and jazz together actually does a disservice to grief since it is far more personal and profound than any piece of music can ever be (I assume). To date I haven’t been, and I almost hesitate to write this, on the receiving end of a shocking call telling me someone close to me has passed away prematurely. It doesn’t mean I can’t relate to the pain or empathize with the resulting agony, but until you’ve actually been through something, you cannot fully comprehend its total impact.
I know enough about jazz to be dangerous, but DownBeat magazine hasn’t been knocking on my door for a writing gig either. I listen to a decent amount of jazz, but I’d be the first to admit I’m still on a steep learning curve. I do own many of the ordained “great jazz albums,” and I think I understand why they’re so admired, but some of them just don’t hit me like I know they hit other people. The jazz records I love strike me the same way certain rock & roll records strike me—they feed a need I knew, or didn’t know, I had. I appreciate beautiful playing, of course, but sometimes that alone won’t suffice.
Here’s a record that does it for me on multiple levels. Chicago drummer Jeremy Cunningham composed The Weather Up There in tribute to his brother who died twelve years ago in a home invasion gone terribly wrong. It’s not an event that ever had to result in a musical response, but that’s often how musicians deal with pain, so here we have a marvelous album made with the support of Jeremy’s friends from the fertile Chicago jazz scene including notables like Jeff Parker, Ben LaMar Gay, Makaya McCraven, Tomeika Reid, and numerous others. Each side of the record begins with a song that sets the tone for what’s to come—without those tracks you likely wouldn’t fully understand the deeply felt context of the album. “Sleep” opens with Cunningham’s Aunt (although some sources say his mom), via a home recording, recalling a recent dream where his brother comes to visit her for one last goodbye. “Elegy” kicks off side two with a collage of recordings of loved ones and friends reacting to his brother’s death, some expressing shock, some with anger at our gun laws (the killers were armed with AK-47s). The music that follows acts both as a form of mourning and a celebration of life depending on the moment. You can sense the heightened level of compassion in the room as the songs pour out. Jeff Parker’s guitar in particular is a major standout throughout the record, weeping and angry at the same time, interacting with Cunningham’s persistent drumming as if his musical support system. The rest of the band surrounds Cunningham, trying in vain, I assume, to bring him closer to a reconciliation that will never fully come.
6. GIRLS AGAINST BOYS / Tropic of Scorpio
Ah, the alternative 90s! I’ve long forgotten many bands once touted as the next big thing during the post-Nirvana alternative signing frenzy, but there are others that remain in my head—usually because of a song or record that captured my imagination for a short while. Girls Against Boys were just such a band. I still really dig their House of GVSB record from 1996 and a couple of the songs on it (“Click Click” and “Disco Six Six Six”) truly sound unlike anything else from back then, which is saying something. I stumbled on their entry in The Trouser Press (proof of my comments in item #2 above) and that motivated me to poke around their back catalog a bit and was intrigued by their debut record, Tropic of Scorpio (from 1992), and being a lover of great song titles, was immediately drawn to the song “Matching Wits with Flaming Frank.” I secretly hoped the song would live up to the title because it would look great on a future playlist (I love when something comes together musically as well as aesthetically). Unfortunately it didn’t pan out. Then I noticed another song title I loved “Everything I Do Seems to Cost Me $20” which made me chuckle, but then I noticed the album closing song was “Everywhere I Go I Seem to Spend $20” and that was all I needed to pop for the record on eBay. And, you guessed it, it cost me about 20 bucks!*
*Full disclosure: it was actually $21.86, but close enough.
7. REN HARVIEU / Revel in the Drama
Ren croons like one of those sexy lounge singers who sits on a guy’s lap during the show as his wife watches uncomfortably from the next chair. “Let me put my paws on ya,” begins “Strange Thing” and immediately you’re drawn into her exotic world. “Curves and Swerves” continues the mood, but this one will do more than cause cheeks to blush in embarrassment. “I’ve got some curves and some swerves/What you gonna do about it?/And you’ve got some nerve to even think/You could ever live without it.” It’s gonna be a long, quiet ride home, that’s for sure. Ren has a way of making even the most salacious line work (“My body she is alive/It’s the first time since the last time”) in a very Lana Del Rey way—the coolest girl in the room can get away with just about anything. “Yes Please” takes a similar angle, this time with a hint of dominance, “We can play out all your darkest confessions/But you gotta get on your knees.” Is it a little warm in here? I think it’s a little warm. Are you warm? What I really like about this record is that it’s not an exercise in reclaiming the speakeasy atmosphere from the roaring 20s—it’s utterly contemporary. And, far from a one-trick pony, Ren spends a good portion of the record dealing with the post-show insecurities of a woman who, after an evening of toying with some easy marks, recoils into her dark apartment to battle her personal demons. “Tomorrow’s Girl Today” features some self-talk, “As soon as I stop making bad decisions/Oh, world, watch out.” “Little Raven” takes it further, “Here comes the night, whispers in my ear, old friend/You can turn on the light, but I’ll just turn it off again.” This album sounds like the soundtrack to a great movie that has yet to be made, but until it does, maybe you can find some use for it, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
8. CHROMEO / Quarantine Casanova EP
This new EP from Montreal’s electro-funk kings is full of songs Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island crew might’ve produced into SNL shorts back in the day. By the title alone you can tell this isn’t a project meant to last—in fact, it’s a little late to the “party” as people are already starting to get back to their normal programming (not for the better, likely for the worse) and the world has collectively moved its focus to the subject of racial injustice. But don‘t tell Chromeo that, at least for a little while—they’ve worked too hard on this record to get you dancing in your living rooms. This is a fully-produced dance record with some pretty funny songs that are well-crafted, especially considering the project was hatched on a lark during a stay-at-home order. Frankly, if this record doesn’t give you any amusement, this virus may have sapped your sense of humor completely. Just lick a grocery store conveyor belt and get it over with already. “Clorox Wipe” takes the hushed “I’ll do anything for you, girl” trope and adapts it for current times, “I’ll be so effective/You won’t be affected/I’m not tryin’ to be your man/I’m just your disinfectant/I’ll be your Clorox wipe.” “6 Feet Away” covers the same concept, “6 feet away/That’s how I’m gonna love you.” “Stay in Bed (And Do Nothing)” covers some other quarantine dilemmas (“All these people want to Zoom/I don’t even like them in real life”). “’Roni Got Me Stressed Out” does the same (“I bought a 2020 planner/I guess I’ll throw it out”) and “Cabin Fever” goes out with an LOL (“I slept on the floor/And wait for it/ I even built a goddamned fort”). It’s not meant to be anything more than a few moments of levity so get yourself a little “souvenir” from a time most of us would like to forget as soon as possible. If life gives you lemons, sanitize them, and then make some lemonade.
9. THE FACES / “Cindy Incidentally” and “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything”
If you wanted to have some drunken fun with any band from the early 70s, the Faces would’ve been a good choice. The Stones? Too aloof and insulated. The Who? Either too mercurial (Townshend) or too reckless (Moon). Led Zep? Nah, too much trouble and too many hangers-on to weed through. But the Faces seemed to be a band who could storm into a pub, buy the place several rounds, shoot some pool, attract some birds, hang with the commoners, and have a grand old time until sun up. Their box set wasn’t called Five Guys Walk Into a Bar… for nothing! Plus, their songs were not, with some exceptions (“Stay With Me”), giant hits. They were songs you might hear from a top-tier bar band with a great lead singer (Rod Stewart
good enough for ya?). Yeah, “Oh La La” became popular later as rock & roll fans started getting older (used in Rushmore to great effect), but in its day it wasn’t a big hit (Rod Stewart didn’t even like it, so he passed the vocal duties to Ronnie Wood and the rest is history). I was cranking “Cindy Incidentally” this week and loving it, immediately putting it on my list of under-appreciated rock and roll songs, and then “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything” came on and I fell in love with it again, too. (All I was missing was a high-ball glass filled with whiskey and a splash of Coke.) The song sounds like the story of the next day, when Rod and the boys come home too late (from our party at the bar) and Rod shifts into apology mode to his girl at home. He showers her with compliments and testifies to her importance in his life, all in contrast to the previous evening’s activities. What really cracks me up it the song’s full title, “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything (Even Take the Dog for a Walk, Mend a Fuse, Fold Away the Ironing Board, or Any Other Domestic Short Comings).” What a real love story! Rod will even, in a grand gesture of unlimited devotion, take 5-seconds to fold up an ironing board! What a keeper! And you should want to take your dog for a walk—since when is that a chore? And replacing a fuse doesn’t take much of an effort either.* How could a girl refuse a man making such magnanimous gestures? What a dreamboat! He's lucky he's Rod Stewart. Otherwise, out on his fanny.
*Note: None of the parenthetical chores are mentioned anywhere in the lyrics which makes you wonder why they were included in the title to begin with.
10. I DON’T WANNA GO DOWN TO THE BASEMENT: Banished CDs, Volume 1
Welcome to a new feature in our Top 10 where we go down to the basement and pull three random CDs from a storage bin and reassess them for a possible move back upstairs. We’ll explain why we have them, how they got down there in the first place, and what we think of them now. Oh, and most importantly, we’ll answer the question if they were exiled fairly or unfairly.
THE JODY GRIND / One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure (DB Records)
Why we have it: I’ll assume a good review somewhere, but I’m not sure. It does feature the early work of Kelly Hogan on vocals (who later sang with Neko Case and solo). It’s all over the map from a style standpoint, with lounge pop, jazzy crooning, a Greek folk tune, some Americana, and even a sterling cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’” which is my personal favorite moment on the record.
Why it was in the basement: Space constraints.
Verdict (Fair/Unfair Exile): Fair exile. I’ll put the few songs I like in my digital library, but in my humble opinion they bit off more than they could chew by trying so many different styles (and a young Hogan overdoes her vocals a bit throughout, something she would sort out later in her career).
SMOOSH / She Like Electric (Pattern Records)
Why we have it: Sent to me as a promo. This is a record made by two pre-teen girls which is predictably cute with songs that are better than you’d expect considering. Nothing much happened with their career, but they still make music together under the name Chaos Chaos (which I didn’t know until moments ago). I see they released a new song this year called “Capital T,” and one listen only affirms my decision to not follow their career over a fifteen years ago.
Why it was in the basement: After one listen, there was no use for it anymore. The novelty had worn off. They’re lucky to be in the basement and not the dumpster we rented once to unload years worth of accumulated crud. Perhaps I subconsciously kept it in case they became big pop stars someday?
Verdict (Fair/Unfair Exile): Extremely Fair Exile. I should be given a medal for holding onto it for this long.
THE MONTGOMERY EXPRESS / The Montgomery Movement (aka “Party Fever”) (IKEF)
Why we have it: This is one of those funky R&B bands from the early-70s who produced one strong album that’s considered by critics to be a lost “cult classic.” (There is no end to such records.) I’m easily suckered by such claims, especially when it’s in my funk/soul/R&B wheelhouse, so I took a gamble. It turned out to be pretty good, if a little tame for my tastes (the liner notes accurately call it “lackadaisical funk” and I’m not sure that’s a good thing). No matter, the 1972 record was deemed good enough to be reissued twice. My copy is the inferior version, but the Numero Group fixed that when they reissued it in the early part of the 21st century. At the time, I didn’t merit it worthy of another upgrade, however.
Why it was in the basement: Simple. The CD is missing. I kept the case in the unlikely event it miraculously reappears.
Verdict (Fair/Unfair Exile): Fair without the CD obviously. It wouldn’t be down there for any other reason. It may not be perfect, but it’s good enough to be housed in the main “collection.” Numero Group, if you’re reading…
There you go. Another week shot to hell. We’ll see you next Monday. Until then, support artists and buy records, especially since live music isn’t a thing right now. Streaming doesn’t do them much good comparatively so, if you claim to love music, show it. Financially support your favorite artists and buy some actual records.