The last few weeks have been pretty stressful. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but my dad, brother, aunt, grandmother, counselor, English professor, doctor, psychiatrist, and multiple friends all think I need to get away from home, at least for a while. I’m continuing to look for a job and apartment in Missouri, but it’s a very time-consuming process. In the mean time, here are some song recommendations for you all (in no particular order), since what is life without music?
“It’s All Over, Mary Ann”- written by Jim Croce, performed by Jim and Ingrid Croce
This is one of Croce’s less well-known songs. Jim and Ingrid’s vocals are amazing, and the harmonies are absolutely wonderful. The extremely simple accompaniment (one guitar quietly playing the same two arpeggios over and over) allow their voices to really shine.
“Turn the Page”- written and performed by Bob Seger
The lyrics really get across the loneliness of life on the road. Seger’s understated delivery adds a feeling of weariness that makes the song even more expressive. And the saxophone part is just outstanding. It makes this haunting sound that I didn’t think saxophones were capable of.
“Tangled Up in Blue”- written and performed by Bob Dylan
In my opinion, this is one of Dylan’s best songs. His voice is at its peak (he’s actually on key for once!). The lyrics are creative and original, without delving into the excessive surrealism that sometimes marks Dylan’s work. The judicious use of the harmonica works wonderfully. Also, once you know the words, it’s really fun to sing along with, and very cathartic. It’s a little hard to figure out the story’s narrative, but you can get the gist of it pretty easily (Guy meets girl, keeps getting separated from her and tries to find her again. Despite what it sounds like, it’s really upbeat.). It’s not told in chronological order (I read somewhere it was inspired by Cubism (the art style)) so it’s got that Dylan strangeness that’s so appealing (well, to me anyway). I would suggest finding the original version from Blood on the Tracks. Apparently Dylan decided the song worked better in third person soon after he recorded it, and has performed it that way ever since. I disagree, but it’s his song, so he can do whatever he wants. It seems to have worked out well for him so far.
“Mercy Seat”- written by Nick Cave, performed by Johnny Cash
This is a song I would never have come across if Johnny Cash hadn’t covered it. I looked up the original recording by Cave, and absolutely hated his voice. (Which supports my axiom that everything sounds better when sung by Johnny Cash. Even if the original version was good, Cash’s version will sound better. It’s a fact of life.) I love the lyrics though, so I have to respect Cave for that. The song’s narrator is a criminal on death row who’s about to be executed, and who might not be totally sane. He keeps protesting his innocence, while going on a rambling stream-of-consciousness monologue that conflates the electric chair with the mercy seat (from the Bible, either God’s throne or where priests used to make sacrifices for people’s sins. I’m not totally sure. Either way, it’s got something to do with divine judgement, which is the important thing.) Cash’s voice is perfect for the lyrics- perhaps that’s why I hated Cave’s version so much. The ending is ambiguous- the narrator makes an admission that changes everything, and then falls silent (indicating that he’s died). At the end, there’s a lengthy piano solo that relieves all the emotional tension built up throughout the song.
“Carey”- written and performed by Joni Mitchell
You didn’t think I was going to let you get away before I recommended a Joni Mitchell song, did you? I almost recommended “Free Man in Paris” instead, since that’s probably more relevant to my life right now, but I chose “Carey” for its feeling of joie de vivre, which is something that’s rather lacking in my life at the current moment. It’s about a guy Mitchell was dating while living in a cave in Greece (Really! It was 1970, so I guess it was the times…). Anyway, “Carey” is the guy she’s dating that she’s going to break up with (Since apparently she didn’t want to live in a cave in Greece for the rest of her life. Totally understandable, in my opinion). But she’s decided to put it off for the moment and just enjoy the evening. The song’s syncopated rhythm is fun, and I LOVE Mitchell’s voice- it’s incredibly expressive. This is quite possibly the most flirtatious song I’ve ever heard. (Fun fact: Carey, the “bright red devil” in this song, also features in “California” as the “red, red rogue”).