Hi everyone & Happy New Year! I just got back from the Christmas holidays where I tried (mostly in vain) to stay offline as much as possible.
Damn all those vacation rentals and their easy Wi-fi 🙂 But it was good to get away – we drove down the California coast, saw some nature and lots of seals, sea lions, otters and stars, absolutely amazing stars at night.
And even though I’d made a California playlist for the drive, we ended up listening to the radio most of the time. Which pretty much meant classic rock and modern pop. So my kids now know who CCR is, and I know that Avicii is like, one guy from Sweden. We also watched the New Year’s Eve countdown shows, in which Miley Cyrus threw down the entertainment gauntlet by fondling a female dwarf in gold lame. Let’s see Lady Gaga top that!
So herewith is my second installment of the Year in Review, in no particular order, heavy on strong female voices. Hoorah!
Tessanne Chin’s version of ‘I Have Nothing’ on The Voice reaffirmed my belief in the power of a pop song. Whitney would be proud. Tessanne, you are golden.
Bieber & his moustache. You can do it, sweetheart – Movember is only ten months away!
Timberlake sings that he wants a girl to be “my mirror, my mirror staring back at me”. I say, “I’ve got no time for a raging narcissist, JT. I’m moving on.”
Critics’ Darling that’s actually kinda boring: Vampire Weekend.
Criminally Underappreciated: Neko Case.
Unexpectedly awesome in concert: Belle & Sebastian, Dirty Projectors.
Robin Thicke is that Dad with the hands that you had to watch out for when you were a babysitter.
What do Kanye West and Woody Allen have in common? They’ve both lost touch with the real world.
If you want to hear something cool, check out Lo-Fang’s single, ‘#88’. Debut album out soon.
Atoms for Peace is Pepsi to Radiohead’s Coke. You drink it anyway, but only because they’re out of Coke.
Pharrell Williams’ sweet, disarming face totally hides his pervy nature.
Whoever chose the Eddie Vedder/Pearl Jam songs for the TV show Castle is the MOST AWESOME PERSON EVER.
The best singer-songwriters today aren’t American or even Canadian. They’re Brits: Laura Marling and Jake Bugg.
One of my favorite things about 2013 was listening to Miranda Lambert and Pistol Annies.
Super duo: Edie Brickell & Steve Martin.
There was more fresh, original music coming out of country and alt-country than the alternative/rock scene. Discuss.
Eminem is now 40. Can an angry rapper age gracefully? This could be interesting.
All hail the return of the king – David Bowie – and the art of the music video:
One day I’m going to listen to that Arcade Fire double album all the way through. But probably not ’til EO goes off to college.
The sad thing about Miley Cyrus is that she made us forget what a great voice she has.
New NCIS-LL Cool J crossover hit: ‘Grandmama Said Knock You Out’.
I know I’m supposed to say Breaking Bad, but what I really like are Arsenal games and Castle.
Still the coolest person in the room: Aimee Mann on Twitter.
The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street. Please can we stop with the all-soundtrack ADHD movie? It smacks of artistic desperation and well, laziness.
Embrace the cliché: 2013 was the Year of our Lorde. That is all.
Wait. Yet. It’s still Beyonce’s world. We’re just living in it. #texasproud
Highway 12 heading west out of San Marcos, driving in and out of rain. High school football stadiums and farm to market roads. Sheep chewing on grass by the fence posts and country on the radio. Lightning forking through the horizon sky.
Almost all of me is back in Hong Kong. The rest, a small part, is still driving Texas back roads listening to the radio, like I always did, from age sixteen onwards. The voice I hear on this road trip daydream is one of my favorite country singers: Miranda Lambert, who’s from Longview. She’s basically amazing. And not to sound too Project Runway, but she’s classic and edgy at the same time. She does great work solo or with the Pistol Annie’s. Check out ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ and become a fan.
Have a good week!
In Hong Kong that is.
Dwight Yoakam’s got a new CD out, Three Pears. It’s his first original album in seven years, a welcome surprise from a guy who’s done more acting than singing lately.
So I was in HMV Central the other day, to pick up the new One Direction for EO and some other boy band birthday gifties for one of YO’s friends. And I thought: I could really use some Dwight today – what are my chances of finding his latest?
Not great, let me tell you. The popularity of country music in Hong Kong started with Johnny Cash, peaked at Glen Campbell and ended somewhere around “Rocky Mountain High”. George Strait? Never heard of the guy. Miranda Lambert? Not interested. Taylor Swift might sell squillions worldwide – and a stack of her latest was greeting everyone who walked through HMV’s doors – but she’s firmly in the pop camp these days.
I knew it would take some effort, but if you’ve ever seen Dwight live or heard that warble in his voice, you’d know he’s worth it. First, I had to ask the clerk, Joe, where the country section was. He showed me maybe three shelves to the left of jazz, mixed in with easy listening and folk. Carrie Underwood was there, filed between The Brothers Four and Connie Francis. Okay, random. Lady Antebellum was there, and I couldn’t help but notice that they filled a section of shelf about equal to John Denver’s allotment.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a (country) woman.
But Joe the clerk was my champion. I spelled out Dwight’s name and Joe checked their computers and then disappeared. After many frustrating minutes – are you telling me there is only one Dixie Chicks CD for sale and it’s a cheesy, quick-compiled Greatest Hits album? – Joe returned with the goods. I almost hugged him.
The album cover was simple: three pears against a stark white background. No hats, boots or truck bumpers in sight. It’s definitely not your typical country album cover, but Dwight has never followed Nashville’s playbook. He made his name as a student of the Buck Owens-Bakersfield sound: old school and proud of it. He’s had an eclectic acting career, happily playing comedy weirdos or brutal villains. For Three Pears, he got Beck to come in and produce a couple of tracks. Put all that together and I’m looking forward to some boundary pushing, thinking this might be his Van Lear Rose.
Unfortunately, the production on the new album is slicker, fuller, and disappointing in its middle-of-the-road sound. I couldn’t tell what he was going for: a kind of ‘60s pop feel or a big ‘70s Eaglesque rock sound. “It’s Never Alright” could be an amped-up “Desperado” (with horns!) while the Beck-produced “A Heart Like Mine”, I swear, would not have been out of place in an episode of The Monkees.
The twang is still there – just not as rough and ready as in his younger years – and I did find some moments to enjoy. The pedal steel and the ache in “Missing Heart” – the other Beck number – remind me of some of Dwight’s best bittersweet songs, and the lone cover tune, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” (by Joe Maphis), is a great honky tonk number.
What I miss is the intimacy of his early work. The songs on Three Pears are too big, too loud, too stadium. I’m not asking for another Hillbilly Deluxe but where are the fiddles, at least? Where’s the man who seems most at home in a beer-soaked, sawdust-floor dance hall? I searched and searched for him. Now I miss him.