Josh Rouse is an artist that I’ve followed faithfully for many years. I’ve bought all of the Nebraska native’s albums since “1972” in 2003. (Confusing, I know.) I haven’t been disappointed yet. He’s not the flashiest songwriter, but his tunes are always well-crafted, frequently gorgeous, and occasionally, as is the case with today’s pick from 2005’s “Nashville,” near-perfect. I’m naming this one prettiest song of the Aughts.
Josh Rouse — “It’s the Nighttime”
Before “Titanium,” before all the Grammy nominations, and LONG before the two-toned hair veil, Sia was a journeyman Aussie singer who lent her golden pipes to the first three albums by British electronic duo Zero 7. While I applaud the fact that she’s now a superstar in her own right, I have to say that I much prefer the earlier, chilled-out Sia to the current dance-pop sensation. Check out this gorgeous track and tell me if I’m wrong. (Although the video is a bit aggressive!)
Zero 7 – “Distractions”
Neo-soul was a memorable musical movement in the late ‘90s and early 2000s that gave classic soul grooves a contemporary polish. It’s an imperfect umbrella term for a wide range of great artists, from Erykah Badu to Maxwell to Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill. My favourite artist associated with neo-soul is Jill Scott for her fierceness, her fine voice, and her consistency—her 2016 album, “Woman” is just as good as any of her previous releases. This irresistible, empowering tune is one of Scott’s best-known tracks.
Jill Scott — “Golden”
Reconsidering the Aughts
Initially I balked at doing a 2000s list because when I think of that decade, my mind immediately goes to vapid boy bands and Auto-Tuned pop princesses and the death of the music industry. But when I did my “19 Days of Songs from the ‘90s” series, I discovered that a lot of my favourite recorded works that I was sure were pre-millennial actually came out in 2000 or after. Like “Music for Imaginary Films,” for instance, a delightful concept album by the Dutch electronic duo Arling & Cameron. The title is self-explanatory: 14 spot-on theme songs for movies that don’t exist. There are even fake promo posters in the CD booklet! (See photo.) This retro-spacey jam is a highlight.
Arling & Cameron — “1999 Spaceclub”
Part Four: The Breakup
Like most first loves, it wasn’t meant to last.
I broke up with Kiss in 1980. I probably should have ended it sooner. After the honeymoon highs of “Alive!” and “Destroyer,” the romance continued for a while with “Rock and Roll Over” (late 1976) and “Love Gun” (’77). A reserve of goodwill carried me through the spotty solo efforts released simultaneously by each member in 1978. But by 1979, the flame had started to fizzle. The next album, “Dynasty,” featured the Top 40 hit “I Was Made for Loving You,” a woeful attempt at disco. The poppy follow-up, 1980’s “Unmasked,” made almost no impression. I listened to it maybe one-and-a-half times and I couldn’t tell you the name of a single tune on it. And its tantalizing title—implying that the perennially disguised rockers might expose their true faces behind the makeup, something fans had buzzed about for years—was a tease. They kept the masks on. (Although they would follow through with the reveal a few years later and it wasn’t pretty.) Continue reading
Part Three: The Show
I wish I had a really cool story to tell about going to see Kiss in concert for the first time. A salty saga of impropriety involving sneaking out of the house, hot-wiring a car, snagging fake IDs and getting loaded on PBR in the arena parking lot. There’s a low-budget movie that came out several years ago called “Detroit Rock City”—not an Oscar-worthy piece of cinema, let’s just say. In it, four teenage Kiss fanatics set out on a quest to catch their idols’ tour stop in the Motor City. En route, they battle belligerent disco enthusiasts and pearl-clutching protesters, thwart an armed robbery using a Stretch Armstrong doll (!), rescue a kidnapped floozy, lose their virginity and learn a little something about life, until ultimately they gain entry into the show by way of a con that involves punching each other in the face.
So a story like that. But no, the terrible truth is my mother chaperoned us. Continue reading
“All Good Things” Edition
When I started this ‘90s list 19 days ago—feels like a lifetime now!—little did I know then that I would be bidding farewell to my dear Canadian friends in just a few short weeks. As I prepare to make the big move overseas, I want to pause to salute them for being so lovely and good and kind and fun and friendly and…did I mention lovely? One of these days, to borrow a lyric from Mr. Young, I’m going to sit down and write them all a long letter. But for now, this song is dedicated to my Canadian pals. I’ll miss you! (Getting a little teary now.)
Neil Young — “One of These Days”
Indecision Isn’t Pretty
I had definite picks in mind for the prettiest song of the ‘60s and the ‘70s, and even for the ‘80s I narrowed it down to one band, the Cocteau Twins. (Check me out on Facebook for those picks!) But for the ‘90s I’m having trouble choosing between many and varied acts for prettiest song of the decade. Either more groups started making pretty music in the ‘90s or I started listening to prettier music or both. I give the clip I’m posting below a slight edge for the moment, but ask me tomorrow and the answer could be “Mockingbirds” by Grant Lee Buffalo. Or “Crowded in the Wings” by the Jayhawks. Or “Driving” by Everything But the Girl. Or Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah.” Or something else.
Mazzy Star — “Fade Into You”
“Props to the New Hood” Edition
I’m reading up on my soon-to-be home of Portsmouth, England, and I’m discovering that several very famous people hail from there. There’s one guy named Charles Dickens who sounds vaguely familiar—I’ll have to Google him to remind myself of what he’s done. But most importantly, OMG, Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears is from Portsmouth! TFF peaked in the ‘80s, but for the purposes of this list, in 1993 Orzabal released what was essentially a solo album under the band moniker. Despite the absence of Curt Smith, “Elemental” is a solid effort with a few tracks to rival the duo’s best, including the title track and this one, “Break It Down Again.” Orzabal reconciled with Smith in the aughts and they put out one more album and have been working on a follow-up for a while. If I see Orzabal in the Portsmouth Asda, I’m going to tell him to get a move on already and finish it!
Tears for Fears — “Break It Down Again”
Part Two: The Army
Among the small core group of friends that I’d made after moving to Nashville as a young teen, James was the most adventurous. He always did things first. He had the first girlfriend. (Though I tacitly sat out that race for reasons which would become clear to me a few years later.) He smoked the first cigarette, drank the first beer, heard “Stairway to Heaven” before any of us, thanks to his older brother’s record collection. But he wasn’t a juvenile delinquent or a bad influence in any alarming way. With blonde wavy hair, a crooked grin and a gregarious demeanor, he was basically a good Southern boy. Just a touch more fearless than the cadre of quaking 8th-graders he hung around with. Continue reading