Friday, August 3, 2012

A Perfect Musical Storm

It doesn't happen all that often, but sometimes, just sometimes, a perfect musical storm occurs, where a musician puts out a CD that a) contains songs by an artist at the top of his or her game b) is wonderfully-produced, c) is well-received by critics, and d) sells extravagantly to the public.  If you ponder for a moment, it may strike you how rarely this happens.

Blood On The TracksThriller? Document? Dark Side Of The Moon?

Certainly, many of our best pop artists never have this happen to them in their careers.  It's like that Super Bowl ring.  More often, bands or solo artists rise to the top, however briefly, because of one song, or because of a CD that comes out after they have peaked, because we so lag when it comes to that kind of tipping point, that we have to go back to an artist's best work and catch up.

And, to be clear, I'm talking about a stellar CD, top to bottom.  How many of those are there to begin with, regardless of whether or not they meet all of the criteria above?

One that I would offer for your consideration that might have slipped off your radar is Shawn Colvin's a few small repairs.  Released in 1996, the CD produced a Grammy-winning hit single, "Sonny Came Home" and went platinum.  It changed Shawn Colvin from a top-notch folk artist to a top-notch mainstream artist.

If you play a few small repairs straight through, the power of its first 6 songs is startling, like the "Murderer's Row" of the New York Yankee's batting lineup in their heyday--"Sunny Came Home," "Get Out Of This House," "The Facts About Jimmy," "You And The Mona Lisa," "Trouble," "I Want It Back."  The songs explode in so many ways, from percussive acoustic instruments kicking off the first two to the low-bass piano riff of "Trouble."  "Get Out Of This House" would sit comfortably on a Tom Petty or Ryan Adams CD with its mid-tempo alt-country blend of guitars and harmonica.  The lyrics are often urgent, always mysterious--"I close my eyes and fly out of my mind/ Into the fire" or "I used to get drunk to get my spark/And it used to work just fine" or "I love you the most/ Always giving up the ghost/ In your own private conversation" are good representatives.

If you put a few small repairs on "shuffle," the variety and strength of the material stands out perhaps even more, uplifted by the surprising realization that the songs could have been presented to you in any order and you wouldn't have challenged the integrity of the CD.  The piano ballad "If I Were Brave" that begins, "All the happy couples on their way to New Orleans/ reminding me of when we got along" could have kicked off a very different record, but as it is, it provides lyrically similarity but stark musical contrast to the songs that came before.

And way down near the end of the CD sit "New Thing Now" and "Nothin' On Me."  I'm not sure I even heard these songs until I'd owned it for about 10 years, listening habits and distractions being what they are.  "Nothin' On Me" could have been a hit single in its catchy riff and boppy rhythm and postive defiance.  Most songwriters should be so lucky to have a song that strong to put in the 12th slot on a CD.

"New Thing Now" has become a few small repairs hidden gem for me.  Much as I would praise the superb production of the CD, I've always been partial to Colvin as a solo acoustic performer, and "New Thing Now" is the only song on the CD that is Colvin's voice and guitar with very little embellishment.  It's a brilliantly-constructed song, the song and each chorus opening with "This is your new thing now" and with every lyrical self-assessment undercut by the phrase "but not quite."

Colvin's masterpiece sounds as fresh as it did 16 years ago--both its production and its sensibilities have that timeless quality that make it a welcome car soundtrack for the family, late-nite companion, or party pleaser.  If you've forgotten about it, give it another spin.

4 comments:

Billy said...

Excellent post, Bob. I completely agree. For me, the 1-2 punch of Fat City followed by this album is phenomenal, but for overall quality and power (not to mention a leap in commercial success), a few small repairs wins by a nose.

troutking said...

I like this kind of post. Never heard the album, I'll have to check it out.

Daisy said...

I have no documentation to support this statement, but I am pretty sure Nikki C Hasden agreed with you back in 1996.

Bob said...

@ billy: so what you're saying is the two CDs are equal......but not quite

@trout: unfortunately I think there's something wrong with my disc drive and "new thing now" doesn't sound quite right.

@daisy: you know how much I admired your mother's reviews.