Priest Picks #22: Our Weekly Top 10
Welcome to week #22 of Priest Picks. This was a particularly harsh week for those of us who appreciate guitar heroics. But better to have riffed and lost than to never have riffed at all, I guess. So we’ll celebrate those lives for a moment and then move on to our normally scheduled agenda, which as always, is packed. This time we’ve got something old, something new, something borrowed, and even something blue for you. Scouts honor!
1 LAST RITES: PICKLED PRIEST BRINGS OUT THE DEAD
I guess we’re just going to make this an official Pickled Priest regular feature from now on, but it’s not by choice. It’s simply our divine calling to say a proper goodbye to the deceased. I think you’ll find we do no justice to our esteemed dearly departed subjects, but it’s how we grieve, so please be forgive us.
Freshly Pickled This Week…
Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)
Major rock deaths get so much press, I hesitate to heap anything else on the growing pile of justified tributes. Almost everything has been said already. I’m just one of millions of Van Halen fans who lived in awe of Eddie Van Halen’s talent. Van Halen was a huge part of my early development as a rock and roll fanatic back in the day. They entered my life when I was in high school and even as a novice I understood that this band, and Eddie’s guitar specifically, was different from all the rest. And my love of their music has never waned one iota ever since. Just today, as I let my playlist of VH favorites roll (which includes zero songs featuring Sammy Hagar), I sat there in renewed amazement at his head-shaking, jaw-dropping talent. Who of us wouldn’t give a king’s ransom to play like Eddie for just one day? No wonder he always had that sly grin on his face. He got to do it any time he wanted.
Pierre Kezdy (Naked Raygun bassist)
The only time I saw Naked Raygun was, unfortunately, at Riot Fest in 2014, but it was a great day for me because they played my favorite album, Throb Throb, in its entirety (including the song “On” which was backward on the record, but played forward live for obvious reasons). The band sounded great even though lead singer Jeff Pezzati didn’t seem to enjoy the “classic album” approach very much, “You want to hear that again, I recommend you go home and do it on your own fucking turntable!” Although Pierre Kezdy wasn’t with the band when they recorded Throb Throb, he became an important addition to the band starting with the also great All Rise and Jettison and remained in the pocket from there. He even came out for the second half of the Riot Fest gig, though he was already battling cancer at the time, and it was a touching moment for all. His bass playing was the crucial “throb throb” at the bottom end of the band’s sound and he will never be forgotten by punks everywhere, but especially those in his Chicago hometown.
2 BETTE SMITH / The Good, the Bad, and the Bette
This is a hot, sweaty slab of vinyl, so it’s no wonder the title pays homage to a classic Clint Eastwood western, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and the record’s ripping first track is titled “Fistful of Dollars.” Yes, this record has plenty of dirt under its fingernails, but don’t go expecting an Ennio Morricone-esque soundtrack for this project. Bette will take it from here, thank you. She’s a badass singer who can move from Tina Turner (“Fistful of Dollars”) to Macy Gray (“Song for a Friend”) to Merry Clayton (“Signs and Wonders”) with ease and I’m only scratching the surface of her talents. Her new album, the sequel to 2017’s phenomenal Jetlagger, is equal parts rock & roll and gritty Memphis R&B, and it stuns the senses like a bottle of chicken-shack moonshine. She’s joined by members of the Drive-By Truckers and North Mississippi Allstars, so there’s plenty of gritty guitar bite added to her natural, soulful voice. If the Stones had made this record in 2020, using the very same songs, the album would likely be hailed as a late-career return to form. Just listen to the scorching confessional “I’m a Sinner” and the gritty barroom wails of “I Felt It Too” and you’ll hear what I mean. It doesn’t take a fertile imagination to conjure Mick and Keith trading these lyrics and riffs onstage together. But thankfully Bette is the real deal and she needs no high-profile help at all telling her story. And if you pay close attention you’ll notice that Bette is working through some demons here—primarily parental abandonment. “Don’t Skip Out On Me” makes for a stunning closer. “Oh, well I know you think I’m just some liability / But I can carry my own weight,” Bette sings, which no child should ever have had to say, but thankfully, Bette was right. She’s more than carrying her own weight these days. In fact, she’s pushed through the bad, kept all the good, and came out the other side with 100% of Bette intact and better than ever.
3 PILLOW QUEENS / In Waiting
Dublin’s Pillow Queens have the melodies and harmonies of a great power-pop band, the interlocking guitars of a clanging rock band, and the purpose-driven attitude of a punk band. Their new record, In Waiting, is among the best indie-rock records of 2020 so far. Let’s just get this out of the way now: all female, all gay, all great, and rightfully proud of all three. “Holy Show” wastes no time revealing what one member called the “casual queerness” of their lyrics. “I’ve got your eyes and cheeks in front of me / Filling the space between my thighs.” (“Thighs” pronounced “thoyz” of course.) Overt, yes, but all they’re really doing is writing about their real lives and real loves like every other band out there. And the songs are uniformly great throughout, just about all of them single-worthy. “Child of Prague” and “HowDoILook” sound spectacular at volume. Others celebrate family and community like the touching “Brothers” or take on organized religion’s reaction to their sexuality with the catchy “Gay Girls,” that includes the line, “Well, I won’t worry about the gay girls / I pray for them when I wring my hands.” Above all, though, this is a deep record that never drops in quality, always includes a compelling point of view, and rocks aggressively at times. It even ends like a rock record should; with a track that’s built to be an encore, the epic “Donaghmede.” You might be inclined to fire up a lighter. This is promising stuff and they’re only going to get better, so find them now and watch their future unfold firsthand.
4 LA MARISOUL / La Marisoul & the Love Notes Orchestra, Vol. 1
This brand new record will make you feel like you’ve just stumbled into a sophisticated Mexican nightclub in the 1950s. There on the bandstand is a precisely calibrated Mexican big band fronted by a drop-dead vocalist who goes by the name La Marisoul (aka Marisol Hernandez). They begin the show with “Intro-Como Fue,” which kicks off with just the band vamping spectacularly until La Marisoul takes the stage three-minutes into the song. From there, they both take off in a new direction together and don’t let up for the rest of the record. And it’s an absolute thrill to hear. La Marisoul is actually the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, the Los Angeles-based La Santa Cecilia, who have released some joyous, life-affirming albums over the past few years. This record finds her stepping back in time with the Love Notes Orchestra for a short session of Mexican favorites and the results are simply heavenly. I wish I could’ve been there to witness La Marisoul’s strong, rich, and gently-textured voice belting over these gorgeously lush arrangements. The only disappointment is that this record is only EP length—a way too short seven songs in about 24-minutes. (Who made this decision?!) The only silver lining is they have tantalizingly titled this collection “Vol. 1” so it appears more magic should be on the way soon. Even if this doesn’t sound like your “thing,” I implore you to make it so—just this once. You won’t regret it. This record will enrich your heart and bolster your tired soul. It’s just what you need right now whether you know it or not.
5 I LIKE TRAINS / "The Truth”
First order of business: disregard the shitty fucking band name. I almost let this song slip through my fingers based on their name alone so don't make the same mistake. What are the odds a band with such bad judgment produces anything worth hearing? The odds were not good. I’m not going to go into the band’s long history—they’ve been together for sixteen years, all of which I completely missed—but suffice it to say this song has gotten under my skin something fierce since I first heard it. I Like Trains specializes in dark, menacing, moody spoken-word indictments of our modern world and that approach works brilliantly on “The Truth,” the first song from their new album Kompromat (a word defined as “compromising information collected for use in blackmailing”). The 6-minute opus is dedicated to exploring the many sides of “truth” and how it is manipulated like a gullible child in our current society. And by the tone of the song, this is not going to end well. They don’t mention anyone by name (do we even have to at this point?), but they’ve clearly got modern politics in their crosshairs here. It’s a stark reminder of how low we’ve sunk. Just when you think every angle of the word has been explored, exposed, and humiliated, they continue to dig deeper, seeking their elusive target. But they never really find it and eventually we all find out why…
I am the truth
You will never see me again
And even if you did
You wouldn’t recognize me
6 MARIE DAVIDSON & L’ŒIL NU / Renegade Breakdown
After 2018’s superb Working Class Woman, Montreal's Marie Davidson is back again, but this time she’s switched from minimalist electronic workout music to more conventional song structures (well, for her at least) and the result is her strong new record, Renegade Breakdown. I dig the whole bizarre thing, but right now I’m particularly energized by the title track, which is an odd manifesto of sorts that seems to mimic the raw electric hustles of Working Class Woman’s finest cuts (“Work It” and “Workaholic Paranoid Bitch”) while at the same time disavowing her role in creating them. She’s her own worst critic, which results in a thrillingly diverse collection of off-kilter pop songs that never seem to repeat an idea twice. She’s partnered with a French duo (one member, her husband) for this record and they’ve created an odd, but accessible set of songs that skirt the edge of traditional songwriting without ever arriving completely. If you keep an open mind, however, you’ll be rewarded with an innovative record full of startlingly original songs that at the very least will keep you wondering what’s next.
7 KHRUANGBIN / “Connaissais de Face”
This is one of those “instrumentals with words,” a phrase made famous by Booker T & the MGs’ guitarist Steve Cropper. A delicious Sunday afternoon groove percolates behind a man and a woman coyly reminiscing during what sounds like a picnic lunch captured live on tape. Add in a light French chorus and let the banter flow. Oh, this is nice. Yeah, just like that. Khruangbin is a smart band that never overdoes anything (sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to their detriment). For example, their fabulous single “Evan Finds the Third Room” from their 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo was full of subtle verbal interjections of the word “Yes” from bassist Laura Lee that easily could’ve become the focus of the song. Instead, they laid back and let those sly accents blend into an otherwise grooving instrumental track. There’s certainly no artistic integrity in over-amplifying quirk. It’s not a noble pursuit—the forum for illusionists and shysters. While I haven’t been equally as enamored with their 2020 effort, Mordechai, so far, it does include this track that tickles my fancy in a similar way as “Evan.” What’s particularly interesting about “Connaissais de Face” (loosely “known by face”) is that nothing really happens in the conversation beyond simple memories being shared, “What about the hurricane?” / “When the whole city shut down?” / “Yes, but my lights were still on” / “They always were.” I don’t really know the significance of what I'm hearing, but that’s kind of the point I think. For some reason, every time I listen to it, I feel like a third wheel wishing I had been a part of the original discussion.
8 SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS / Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In)
Great album title alert! I do love a clever album title and Dap-Tone Records is about to drop a new covers album by the late Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings titled after her cover of the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” from 1967. Sometimes great titles take some thought and some are “just dropped in” to your lap. This title falls into the latter category, but I don’t discount the fact that someone still had to make the link between “condition” and “rendition” in the first place, so credit is given where credit is due. The original singer of the song, the late country legend Kenny Rogers, would surely have appreciated the cleverness. I’ve only heard a few songs from this album so far, but it drops in soon, and it’ll surely be essential. Just like everything Sharon ever touched.
9 ANN SEXTON / “I Had a Fight With Love (And I Lost)”
I’m constantly stumbling on lost soul classics—thankfully we’ll never run out of them—but sometimes I scratch my head that some of them haven’t appeared on my radar before. How could Ann Sexton’s great “I Had a Fight With Love (And I Lost)” not been included on some soul compilation I picked up at some point in the past few decades? Thankfully, all is being set straight by a reissue by the UK’s Charly Records of Ann’s small-label albums from the 70s, including her debut Loving You, Loving Me from 1973 and The Beginning from 1977, from which this gem of a track is pulled. What an overlooked slab of prime R&B! I am beyond pleased to add it to my forever growing stash of killer soul singles. I have a feeling I’m in store for even more when the represses finally arrive on my doorstep.
THE 10 SPOT
PRIEST FETISH #0001:
Linda Ronstadt’s Boy Scout Outfit
Today I begin yet another regular feature in The 10 Spot that will act as a confessional of sorts, if you’ll pardon me pushing the sacrilegious undertones of this website to the breaking point. Basically, this feature will probe my psyche for those hardwired proclivities that lurk in the tiny corners of my cranium that I simply can’t escape. My therapist told me it would be best to start baring them to the world. How else to come to terms, she said? And so here it is, my first public reckoning. I would argue this first one is a harmless and healthy obsession with Linda Ronstadt’s Boy Scout stage outfit she wore on tour in 1977 (the Simple Dreams tour, to be specific), but I’ll let you be the judge and jury.
I realize I’m treading a fine line having a website with “Priest” in the title and then admitting right off the bat to a Boy Scout outfit fetish, but what makes this fetish acceptable is that there’s not an actual Boy Scout wearing said outfit. My fetish is triggered exclusively and specifically because Linda Ronstadt is wearing it and makes it look devilishly sexy in the process. I have no fetish for the outfit outside of this context, nor do I look at a Boy Scout at my door selling stale popcorn and ask him, “Can you pretend you’re Linda Ronstadt for a few minutes?” The fetish doesn’t run that deep. In my mind, and in the minds of just about every famous male musician from the early 70s who
traipsed through the Troubadour in Los Angeles at one point or another, Linda Ronstadt was the premiere intoxicating attraction of her era. She was incredibly talented and it cannot be ignored, naturally beautiful. But what made her one of the most groundbreaking and successful female artists of her time was her voice, able to interpret any song in her own unique way and sound almost effortless doing it. When she sang, you were riveted. And she wore the cutest little scout outfit while doing it for a time—an outfit that has since become iconic and even imitated (Madonna once attempted it with nowhere near the same impact). Linda bought the original outfit in an L.A. thrift shop and thought it might be a cool stage outfit—and she was right. The image has been burned in my mind for decades now and forty years after its first appearance, there it is again in all its glory on the poster for her career-spanning documentary The Sound of My Voice (Yes, I already have it framed and in peripheral view at all times on my office wall). As a result, I feel my fetish has not only been justified at this point, but normalized, too. My therapist was right—that did feel good! I’ve included some shots of Linda below not to lure you into my world, which she will do all by herself, but to demonstrate how easy it is to get pulled into Linda’s vortex. I’ll consider this open forum a public service for the similarly inclined and I certainly don’t expect a merit badge for my honesty and bravery.
Well, that's all I can take for today's session, my loyal scouts. See you later this week with another mixtape of yearly favorites (delayed last week due to laziness). Until then, listen to some records and wear a mask. Not in that order.