Reflecting on The Unintended, a wonderful and well-kept secret

After listening to Eric’s Trip for my recent Top 20 Canadian Albums post (https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/here-now-whats-your-all-time-top-20-canadian-albums/), then also to Elevator for the more recent – and quite long 🙂 – post about Rick White & Julie Doiron’s music (https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/erics-trip-the-charming-indie-queen-julie-doiron-and-the-legendary-yet-underrated-rick-white/), I naturally ended up listening to one of Canada’s best-kept secrets : The Unintended. And at that point, I was totally ready for this dreamy psychedelic-folk-rock band. Spoiler alert : when I update my Top 20 Canadian Albums list, I’ll most certainly find a place for this little gem.

But let’s go back a bit, back in 1997, when lo-fi garage band Eric’s Trip had disbanded, and its former leader Rick White was working wholeheartedly on his second major project, the wonderfully haunting psych-rock band Elevator.

At an Elevator show, Dallas Good of country-folk-rock group The Sadies came up to White. They talked about their musical influences and quickly became friends. Good played guitar live with Elevator and later contributed to the band’s records starting in 2002 with Darkness – Light. White also provided lyrics for a few songs recorded by The Sadies over the years.

In 2004, a mysterious album that seemed to appear out of the mist was released, an eponym LP by the band The Unintended. This atmospheric album brings together Rick White, Dallas Good and the three other members of The Sadies, as well as Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo. They convened at Keelor’s farm to record the songs in just a few days, in a very natural manner it seems. Rick White writes and sings most if not all of the songs, and the others members (especially Good) bring their musical ear to create the desired sound. White’s wispered vocals and creative influence are all over this album, his personal “demons” are poetically exposed through the lyrics as always (and the music is very Elevator-esque), but The Sadies’ solid contribution brings great strenght to the album (kudos to Mike Belitsky on the drums!). Some songs on this record stood out right away for me (Angel, for example). But like many masterpieces, the overall product grows on you with time, slowly but surely (and these days, my favorite song is the wonderful No Curse of Time).

Aside from some Gordon Lightfoot cover songs they made together a few years later, this album is their one and only, and it makes this record even more special, like a precious (unintended?) moment in time.

The Unintended members went on to work on their own projects. White kept making interesting albums including a few Elevator records with Good before the band broke up, his three solo records and many collaborations. The Sadies released some great stuff (like the New Seasons album that I had the pleasure of listening to recently), and Greg Keelor kept on making albums with Blue Rodeo and other artists.

And now, should we wait for the next incarnation of The Unintended?

Well, it appears that one of the main inspirations behind The Unintended, White, has voluntarily withdrawn from music (and people, in a way), moved far into the countryside to live a life as little anxiety-inducing as possible.

The first song from The Sadies’ 2016 release Northern Passages, written by Dallas Good, is dedicated to his reclusive old friend. Riverview fog is also, I think, an homage to their collaboration, because many songs from The Unintended CD are referenced here in the lyrics (stay calm, quiet getaway, no curse of time, …). We can definitely feel Good’s caring feelings and his respect for White’s choice of creating art away from it all, yet there’s this unescapable worry and longing for lost days of togetherness and shared creativity. I have myself often reflected on how we litterally force ourselves to live in an alienating stressful environment with crazy and artificial expectations (appropriate for machines perhaps, not humans), and fantasized about dropping it all to live somewhere deep in the woods or on a endless flowery field. I have many friends who struggled with mental illness and had to withdraw, so I can definitely relate to this melancholic song of unconditional friendship. BTW, the rest of the album is also great.

I wish White – and all creative people struggling with our less than healthy lifestyle – rest and inspiration. And thanks in advance, because perhaps that’s how our collective wisdom will be renewed. It’s not doing so great right now.

Monet found great joy in painting his garden following the changing seasons. Even the tempestuous Rousseau found his exile less painful by allowing himself to explore his growing interest in botany (see Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire). Being on vacation right now, I enjoy sitting with my book and glass of wine under the tall tree in my backyard, watching leaves being pushed around gently by the wind and the faint ray of sunlight trying to make its way through. Surely, I’ll get inspired too.

Have a nice peaceful one, everyone!

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Eric’s Trip, the charming indie queen Julie Doiron, and the legendary yet underrated Rick White

How does one manage to become a legend when one’s albums go so largely unnoticed? Or is that characteristic of indie legends?

This is a story that spans over 25 years. A story about music that, like so many, cannot be told without elaborating a bit on the personalities and dynamics of the interesting group of artists that created it.

It begins with a bunch of kids living and playing music in Moncton, New Brunswick, in the early 1990s. Young couple Julie Doiron and Rick White, along with friends Chris Thompson and Ed Vaughan are playing together in the alternative band Eric’s Trip, a name inspired by a Sonic Youth song. Like many of their peers in Moncton, they’re making a racket in their parents’ basement, recording some tapes, and playing energetically at small local shows, while the entire nation is listening to Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block. Eventually, however, people started to notice that those lo-fi garage tapes from these unknown alternative bands were actually selling.

Three cassettes later, Vaughan was replaced by Marc Gaudet, a solid drummer used to playing in local punk bands. His fast drumming, Thompson’s melodic guitar, Doiron’s bass playing and soft vocal harmonies with White, the band’s main singer songwriter and undisputable leader, became Eric’s Trip final line-up.

Around that time, american label Subpop had already released Nirvana’s Bleach, the american grunge scene was making its way towards mainstream radio, and Sloan’s early successes were drawing attention to the Canadian east coast independant scene.

Eric’s Trip became the first Canadian band to be signed by Subpop. They refused Subpop’s first offer, afraid that they would lose out in the end, but the label then offered them full creative liberty (and a little more money) and they accepted. The band chose to keep recording at home with a four-track though, even after being signed. It was a good move. This raw sound fits them well, and many people in the public at that time were looking for honesty in music acts.

With people finally ready to listen, T-shirt&blue-jeans-wearing-long-haired Eric’s Trip was ready to take on the world. As you can see and hear from the performance below, their early live shows were pretty cacophonous (feeling nostalgic of the early 90s yet?), but their albums were always accessible.

In the midst of it all, Doiron and White’s relationship was getting rocky. The creative duo, who learned to play, write, and sing together, was a main force behing the band’s music, and their relationship troubles translated into their albums with bold authenticity. It translated most famously in their first album, Love Tara, released in 1993.

Love Tara is a record that is easy to love right away. The music shows impressive continuity and the stories being told are really engaging. Soft whispered love pleas blend in with loud cries of anguish. White was starting to get more into drugs around that time, and Doiron didn’t appear to be as interested in that scene, which threw a big wrench into their relationship. While on a break with Doiron, White started seeing Moncton’s Orange Glass member Tara Landry for a short time, in secret, a betrayal captured in the emotional song A secret for Julie. That would be a defining moment in the end, according to White who said Doiron never forgave him, but at the time, the two of them were not ready to let go yet. And all the while Eric’s Trip was getting more and more attention, and everyone was just trying to surf the wave and to keep afloat.

The Gordon Street Haunting was released a year later. It’s a short album comprising just a few songs that were strongly influenced by Doiron and White’s breakup, after a few months of being “on again off again” (at the end of the album, you can hear part of Doiron’s goodbye message on what seems to be White’s answering machine). Again, that transparency in documenting reality and the overall genuine quality struck a chord with Eric’s Trip young public. That being said, the moments of distress depicted in these songs were certainly mixed in with ordinary moments and days of chilling out and making music together without getting all worked up (otherwise it would be impossible to sing about the other person to the other person’s face and have him/her do the backvocals to boot!). Through it all, Doiron and White remained good musical partners.

Still, around that time, an saddened Doiron had begun writing her own songs under the name “Broken Girl”, and progressively withdrew from her band mates, spending time away with old friends including paintor Jon Claytor, whom she eventually started seeing. White was seeing Tara Landry again by then and had started a side project with her and Gaudet called Elevator. A little while later, Thompson began working on a side project as well, called Moonsocket.

Did Eric’s Trip lose momentum when the original inspirational couple separated? It would seem so, but to the outside world, Eric’s Trip was in full bloom and interest in the band was growing.

One night, Doiron announces to White that she’s pregnant, and it hits him very hard. His painful perspective of the event is immortalized in the song Forever again (among others), which is also, surely not by coincidence, the title of Eric’s Trip’s next album. With Doiron’s pregnancy, White and Doiron’s split now being definitive, and members of the band spending more and more time on their own projects, Eric’s Trip future seemed uncertain.

Forever again is a dramatic record, very introspective and with darker overtones. That album doesn’t have that perfect continuity that Love Tara had and, as I learned just recently, that disconnectednes was intentional. In these songs, just about everything seems to be collapsing, except inspiration! That album doesn’t necessarily have that “love at first sight” quality, but it definitely grew on me. Very much so in fact. It might just be my favorite now.

At this point, everyone’s side projects were evolving nicely, White and Doiron were getting married to their new significant others, Doiron gave birth to her first child, and Eric’s Trip released Purple Blue. However, the band seemed about ready to call it quits. The album cover is kind of eerie and appears to make reference to the growing distance between them. The songs are filled with loneliness, irritation, and sadness. But whatever’s going on doesn’t affect the album’s quality, the band is tighter than ever musically speaking. White’s new psychedelic inspiration is reflected in this album.

In the middle of a successful tour, White, suffering from panic attacks, announces he’s going home… An Exclaim! article quoted White saying that to him, the band was family, but with Doiron distancing herself from him “mentally”, and living in another city like Thompson and his girlfriend, White wanted to focus on Elevator. In 1996, Eric’s Trip is officially over, but not before the band plays a final show in Moncton, with, legend has it, none other than Sloan opening!

After parting ways with the others, White and Gaudet (and Landry) released several Elevator records and toured a lot. Elevator is a great psychedelic folk-rock band, a real enjoyable musical exploration which I am listening to relentlessly these days. And of course those trippy lyrics and sound are closely linked to the band’s heavy drug consumption. Staying true to himself, White changes the name of the band several times (Elevator to Hell, Elevator Through Hell, Elevator Through, Elevator) because it doesn’t seem quite right, even though Subpop people are losing their hair over it. Hooked on acid (notably), White entered a strange and relatively dark period, but he remained as prolific as ever.

Elevator is artistically interesting, like Eric’s Trip, but not playing by the industry’s rules has a price, and the band doesn’t make much money and that, over time, puts a strain on its members.

After a few years apart, former Eric’s Trip members started talking again and eventually got enthousiastic about a potential reunion tour. They tried it out in 2001. That reunion tour ended up being a great way for them to “bond” again as a band and to have fun as friends. White said in interviews that he was really glad to connect again, notably with Doiron whom he had not seen for years.

Since 2001, Eric’s Trip has reunited for several tours, and fans rejoiced. But that would only be the start of their renewed collaboration…

In 2004, White and Landry called it quits after becoming estranged. Elevator also separated, as conflicts emerged between the three members. At a loss, White went back to the roots. He stayed in his parents’ basement for a while and through reflection and art, got back on his feet and produced his first solo album intitled the RickWhiteAlbum. Afterwards, he moved to the countryside and released two more albums, Memoreaper and 137. He also released some demos in 2013.

All of White’s albums are great and got good reviews, but they kind of flew under the radar. The sound changes from album to album but White’s signature remains the same : personal, imagistic and highly symbolic lyrics, strong melodies, and a pleasant voice (a whisper at times) flowing over it all. The music he makes always seems to be closely related to his state of mind.

White is mindblowlingly creative, and capable : his inspiration is endless, he writes, he plays every instrument, he records and produces his own music, so he still doesn’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. Basically, he’s self-sufficient. In the end, the core similarities between Eric’s Trip, Elevator, and Rick White’s solo albums are a testament to White’s genius and dedication. I have no recollection of any former collaborator saying White was too controlling. Somehow, admirative of his talent and intrigued by his atypical nature, they chose to follow his direction (if you have 3D glasses laying around, check out his video below!).

Over the years, Doiron’s had a pretty successful solo career. Her songwriting always remained very personal, and unfiltered. It feels like reading an open book on her melancholic thoughts and her insecurities. On several records, especially the older ones, her voice is accompanied by a simple guitar melody, bringing the focus on the lyrics. She sings open heartedly about loneliness, longterm relationship difficulties, disappointments, feelings of incapacity, … Even so, her albums have a soft and warm quality. Daily life can appear gloomy at times, but here and there, you find hints of hope and joy. Her style is very influenced by the folk tradition and she has the perfect personnality for it : Julie Doiron might just be the most endearing person in music. The fact that she can play around with mellow acoustic sounds and heavier sounds is a real cool added value.

In 2005, Doiron and Claytor divorced as well, but they remained on good terms. With a few other people, they launched, in 2006, the independant music festival Sappyfest, a series of intimate shows which takes place annually in Sackville, NB (and it looks freaking awesome).

In 2006, Julie Doiron and Rick White teamed up again and made a critically acclaimed album “trilogy” together : White produced three of Doiron’s most recent albums (Woke Myself Up in 2007, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day in 2009, and So Many Days in 2012). Gaudet and Thompson collaborated on a few songs as well. It’s nice to see that fruitful connection between Doiron and White play out so well, after longtime friendship and collaboration (and they’re clearly having fun ; a few youtube videos posted by White shows them giggling all the time). Both are much more experienced, and confident I assume, than in the early days. Julie Doiron has certainly evolved a lot since Eric’s Trip and is now much more well-rounded as a performer, musician, and songwriter. She also spends her time promoting the balance of a healthy body and mind through the yoga classes she teaches.

After almost three decades of playing music that has undeniable artistic qualities (I’ve skipped over several other great CDs and collaborations), Julie Doiron and Rick White appear to me as being national treasures in the musical universe. While sunny folksy relatable Doiron has more visibility (she’s currently on tour with The Wrong Guys), behind the scenes miracle worker and psychedelic influenced Rick White remains little known, although I read a few times that he’s becoming somewhat of a legend. White reveals himself in his songs just as much as Doiron, if not more, but the way he expresses himself is less accessible for most people. But at the heart of the forest where he is still happily living, he’s as intrepid as ever when it comes musical creations, as we can see from his youtube channel, bandcamp and other websites. Over the years, White has demonstrated that he has that rare level of sensitivity that allows him to bring out the best in his own performances as well as other people’s (friends’) performances.

So is White and Doiron’s music groundbreaking per se? Maybe not, but their contribution to the music industry is great, and part of this greatness comes for the “purity” of their creative process. stephen1001 recently told me about a quote from Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie : “I played Love Tara by Eric’s Trip on the day that you were born. I had to find the cuteness in the unadorned.” That quote works perfectly for their early years. And as they evolved as artists, their musical integrity was never compromised.

I’ve lost track of Thompson and Gaudet, but I’m sure they’re rocking it out somewhere. In Doiron and White’s case, hopefully, I’ll get to catch them live once, so I can testify that the legends are alive!

Here! Now What’s Your All Time Top 20 Album Covers?

One could wonder why make a top twenty list about album covers now that people are buying less and less records, and prefer to listen to an unlimited variety of songs on the Internet. Or, one could stay that, for this exact reason, it is the perfect time to talk about albums.

More often than not, I find myself listening to albums rather than playlists. Albums have overarching themes, a distinct style, and an atmosphere that give direction to the music and tie everything together. The order of the songs is carefully planned so they flow perfectly from one to the other. Listening to an album means getting the whole artistic experience, every vibe, every symbol, every feeling the band wanted to convey. And the cover is the final touch, the icing on the cake. Translating an entire musical experience into an image, a single image, can not be the easy task.

I want to do my part and salute artists who care enough to produce beautiful and memorable covers. So what do you say, let’s bring albums back to the forefront, and the front of albums at the forefront of discussions : the album cover, a forgotten piece of art.

Once again, don’t expect the usual top 20 list… although it’s not completely out there either. And don’t hesitate to comment and share your own choices! Mine keep changing anyway.

#20. Frank Zappa, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch

Now there’s a good combination! This brilliant and hilarious droodle (doodle + riddle) by Roger Price is the perfect cover for Zappa’s 1982 release. Listening to Zappa’s intricate wacky cool song at the same time is just perfect, and completely trippy. Once again, here’s proof that you don’t need big production, just a really clever and fitting concept.

#19. London Howlin’ Wolf Session

Looking at that cover, I feel suddently immersed in the 70s. I’m walking by in my funky elephant pants, and I see these guys hanging out on a sunny day in London. Perhaps Howlin’ Wolf or Clapton starts stroking his guitar, and a nice vibe starts to flow around. Yeah… I really miss the “organic” feel of pencil drawings, now that images are always generated by computers. These “real” drawings feel warmer somehow.

#18. The Ramones, The Ramones

A simple concept that fit this debut album perfectly : The Ramones, in black and white, standing against a brick wall. Four guys in their leather coats and blue jeans, standing around unimpressed. So… what makes it special? It’s all in the attitude.

#17. The Wailers, Burnin’

Burnin’ is the last album by the original Wailers, and on the cover, there’s an illustration of their faces “burned” into wooden planks. All six of them, in a bouquet, like the six sides of the Wailers. The result is splendid, and once again, there’s an “organic” feel here that I appreciate a lot.

#16. Weezer, Pinkerton

What a superb 19th century japanese print by Hiroshige, taken out of the illustrious series Fifty-Three Stations of Tokaido. As pretty as this scenery is, with its nice contrast between the black night and the white snow, it’s still a cold and lonely landscape… Indeed, things don’t turn out too well for the unpleasant Pinkerton, or for the Weezer guys as far as I can tell from the unfortunate encounters depicted in these songs.

#15. Eric’s Trip, Love Tara

A young couple in the corner behind the stage, lost in a heartfelt hug, unrecognizable from their 90’s style long hair mixing together. This lovely black and white cover by indie alternative band Eric’s Trip looks just like the album sounds : genuine, relatable, moving… with lots of distortion! Ah, the energetic and uncompromising feelings of youth…

#14. Led Zeppelin, Four Symbols

This artwork is actually an oil painting, affixed on a degraded wall. I read it’s supposed to reflect the contrast between country and city. So the country is represented by a picturesque landscape, while the city is represented by a wall with peeling paint… But is it really a painting, or is it a window?…

#13. Janis Joplin, 18 Essential Songs

This is one of the best pictures of Janis that I know of, a spectacular image, and a great choice for an “Essentials” compilation. This cover captures both the intensity and authenticity of Janis’ performance, the singular movements of her body, and the nice lighting effect.

#12. U2, War

This is a remarkable cover. A back and white photo of a naked child, hurt, who’s looking straight into the camera, or straight at us the viewers, with an intense, accusing look. War brings pain, resentment, and loss of innocence.

#11. Nirvana, Nevermind

Here’s another memorable image. Do you remember the impact of that cover in the early 90s? The complete picture shows a naked baby in a shark tank. Someone dangles a one dollar bill in front of him as motivation. After the wild flaky money-crazy 80’s period, Nirvana tore the place down with that cover, which launched the “grunge” period.

#10. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief

Ten years later, Radiohead chose to expose another type of societal peril : over advertising, and the use of fear to control people and increase consumption. Advertisements are indeed attractive, colourful, and this image is very beautiful. But one cannot help but feel discomfort when looking at this carefully. That discomfort is accentuated by the fact that the words are taken out of context, and stacked together like floors of city buildings that eventually fade away and disintegrate like darkish smoke.

#9. Nina Simone, Fodder on my Wings

What a beautiful and somewhat unsettling painting by Gabriel Jarnier, meant for a truly unique artist.  The level of detail, the choice of colours, and the elegance of it all, it’s quite impressive. Jazz legend Nina Simone is a tragic queen, but an undeniable queen nevertheless.

#8. Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

This album cover is a piece of art by Efram Wolff, which brilliantly shows Stevie Wonder, who became blind shortly after birth, as someone who can perhaps see better than most people. This is of course in connection with this album’s socially charged lyrics. This artwork has a special warm sunny aura about it too.

#7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung

This famous Burton Silverman painting on the cover of the no less famous (and rather epic) Aqualung album is amazing for several reasons. The realism of the scene, the precise and haunting look in the man’s eyes, his body shape and arm position leaving the spectator to wonder… Silverman and Jethro Tull managed to created a character, a very intriguing character, to illustrate the story being told in the Aqualung song. That’s quite an added value for an album.

#6. The Beatles, Abbey Road

Legend has it that photographer Ian Macmillan had just a few minutes to take this picture, while a cop was stalling trafic… How nice it is to be stars. This image is wicked cool. But it inspired the wildest of theories and drove people completely mad (notably one interpretation that the real MacCartney had died and been replaced by an impostor… What? can’t you see the clues on the cover?). That’s quite an achievement for a cover!

#5.The Clash, London Calling

This photograph is a punk classic. Raw and pure intensity, live from a punk show! The Clash’s bassist is caught right before everything goes flying. Time is standing still, and we hold our breath. Apparently, Simonon smashed his bass because bouncers wouldn’t let people stand up out of their seats. I wouldn’t have expected people to sit still either, but I think I would have kept my bass. 😉

#4. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine

Forceful. Troubling. Unforgettable. This Pulitzer-winning picture of a Vietnamese buddist monk self-immolating to protest oppression can be found on a debut album, Rage Against the Machine’s debut. What a fierce, daring, and loud debut. Yes, Rage’s arrival on the american musical scene was anything but quiet, and the band clearly let us know, with this cover, how it was gonna be with them starting right now.

#3. The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground and Nico

This is the classic amongst classics. Andy Warhol’s image of a simple yellow banana, on the cover of the enigmatic and atmospheric Velvet Underground’s debut album, has fascinated fans for generations. “Peel slowly and see”, it said, as people uncovered a skin-coloured banana underneath… Once again, a great fit between the songs and the cover artwork.

#2. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Ziggy Stardust, beamed down from another planet at 3 AM, straight into an american back alley. Standing there over a pile of cardboard boxes, in a dominating pose, debonair, yet ready to show us his monstrous alien power with a powerful powerchord… Utter genius.

#1. Pink Floyd, for their cumulative body of works!

And there’s plenty more where that came from! Thank you, Pink Floyd, for your obvious interest in visual arts, for the time and effort you put in your musical and visual arrangements, and for your complex and sometimes quite disconcerting images!

Welcome the new year with La bottine souriante!

So long 2014! While preparing to welcome in 2015, I thought I’d share some wonderful festive music which we particularly enjoy here in Québec to ring in the new year.

“La bottine souriante” was created in 1976 and is mostly known for its wonderful rendition of Québec traditional music. Songs from the first few decades featured vocal harmonies, accordeons, guitars, pianos, harmonicas, mandolins, and crazy foot works! Indeed, in addition to Yves Lambert’s distinctive voice and accordeon playing, “La bottine souriante” included insane foot rythms by Michel Bordeleau, a great addition to this upbeat music which will have you dancing in no time.

Québec folk music is influenced among other things by old French songs and celtic music. In more recent years, the band explored some new sounds, widened their brass section and added some jazz elements and world beats. “La bottine souriante” is a hit here in the province, but the band also played in France and around the world. The group won several prizes including a BBC Folk Award in 1999.

I saw them live about 10 years ago and it was one of the best shows I had ever seen (and I have seen a few). It took perhaps two or three songs to get the crowd fired up to the point that there wasn’t anyone left sitting on their seat. Below is a live show from 1998, so dance the night away!

Happy new year to all!

Amazing Music Videos: Hurt by Johnny Cash

Let me apologize for waiting this long to post about this incredible work of art! A strong candidate for the number one spot in my Amazing Music Video series.

The adventure began with yet another incredible idea to come out of the brain of famous bearded genius Rick Rubin, a prolific and very influential producer who is responsible for several of the most important albums of the last few decades. Johnny Cash, now in his 60’s-70’s, had been working with Rubin on the American Recordings series: the AR albums comprise new versions of famous songs by american songwriters. On the fourth american recordings record, intitled “The Man Comes Around”, Johnny Cash performs a stunning and unforgettable version of alternative rock band Nine Inch Nails’s iconic song “Hurt”. Using the same strong lyrics (aside from the removal of one little word), he made the song his own and took it in a different direction, as an old man emotionally looking back on his life. While many I’m sure dismissed the raw alternative NIN song right off the bat were then surprised and blown away by it, once they let Johnny Cash do the storytelling (which, incidentally, is also relatively common with Rick Rubin’s albums – he breaks the frontiers of genres and brings out a performance that can be understood by a wide audience).

Directed by Mark Romanek, this video has nothing to do with “blingbling” or what not. It’s not about escaping reality by daydreaming about obscene wealth and fame and nonstop lapdancing (sigh…). It is a naked portrait of a legendary figure in music, now in his 70’s and in fragile health, looking back on his life and career as the “hell-raiser man in black”.  It’s an incredibly moving video, which won best cinematography at the MTV awards; Romanek really should have taken home the best video awards but he lost to Missy Elliot… at least he didn’t lose to 50 cents’s In da club! That was the year of the famous Britney-Madonna kiss too… but let’s rejoice that somehow out of this could rise a wonderful work of art which will stand the test of time (unlike others who shall remain nameless).

I heard someone say once that this video is like a baroque painting. What do you think? Here goes:

PS. If you haven’t seen my “Hurt – original vs cover song battle” between Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash, I invite you to take a look and make your choice (if you can, it’s a heartbreaking choice!) : https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/hurt-vs-hurt-nin-vs-johnny-cash/

 

Jolene: Dolly Parton vs The White Stripes

This is a heartbreaking song about an ordinary woman who watches helplessly as her lover is slipping away, talking about another woman in his sleep: the stunning Jolene, with her flaming locks of auburn hair, ivory skin, emerald green eyes, smile like a breath of spring, and voice like summer rain… That’s a bit discouraging, indeed. So the desperate lovesick protagonist begs Jolene, who she knows she can’t compete with: “please don’t take my man… even though you can”. The song ends with this endless melancholic plea, leaving the audience wondering and hoping that this goddess Jolene chose another man, a single man. Well, what we really want might be for the protagonist to find the self-confidence to leave this guy who might already be cheating on her! But somehow, the strenght of the lyrics, the despair and sadness, end up making you feel for (and perhaps even relate to) this brokenhearted woman and her cruel fate. There’s a deep feeling of loneliness conveyed in both versions which will be the object of discussion today: Dolly Parton’s original country-folk version from the 1970’s and The White Stripes’ slow-garage-rock 2000 version.

Everyone knows Dolly Parton as the energetic charismatic blond country star with a southern charm and lots of personality. She is first and foremost an acclaimed songwriter. Coming from humble beginnings, she slowly but surely became an immensely popular star in the US, where she now has her own theme park! “Jolene” is one of her signature hits. Legend has it that she was inspired to write a song about a woman named “Jolene” after meeting a young fan named Jolene. And then Dolly added in the dramatic overtones, inspired by the fact that her husband was spending a lot of time with a pretty redhead who worked at the bank when they first got married. But they’ve been married for decades so it turned out well after all.

The White Stripes are one of many bands/artists to cover this song, but their version is rather unique and was well-received. It might be a bit strange to hear a man singing this song, but the feelings conveyed are so profoundly human at the core that you quickly forget and get into Jack’s intense desperate pleading (especially in this live version). Personally, I really like the slower rythm, which I think fits better with the suffering portrayed in this song. The White Stripes sound is harder than Dolly’s version, obviously, and Dolly’s clear voice differs from Jack’s raw husky voice. These are two very different sounds, but again, as is often the case with my original vs cover battles, maybe it’s the powerful lyrics that make the song in the end.

 

The Best of the Best of(s) Series: Leonard Cohen (1975 and 2002)

I don’t think this will happen often : posting about two “best of” compilations at the same time… But Leonard Cohen isn’t your usual singer/songwriter/musician. With this many great songs, it’s no surprise that at least two compilations made the list.

Let’s start with the first one: the 1975 release “Leonard Cohen, the Best of”. While I was enjoying “The Future” album from 1992, a friend of mine told me that I absolutely had to listen to Cohen’s 60’s and 70’s stuff before I could even start saying that I knew about and enjoyed Leonard Cohen. So I borrowed this compilation from another friend, and indeed, only then did I start to understand the kind of unbelievable wonders that this Montréal-born artist could create. This “Best of” compilation comprises some of his greatest older tunes, classics like “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne”, “Sisters of Mercy”, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, “Chelsea Hotel”, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”, …  Simply put, there just isn’t one bad song on this album. BTW, in addition to the links below, you can also find many of these songs on these previous posts: https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/how-to-start/ ; https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/famous-blue-raincoat-leonard-cohen-vs-tori-amos/

In 2002, a 2-disc compilation intitled “The Essentials” was released. Practically all of the songs on the 1975 best of compilation are included on this one as well. But a few cool ones were added, like “The Stranger Song”, an all time favorite of mine. And then, there’s a few great classics from the 80’s: “Everybody Knows”, “I’m Your Man”, “Tower of Song”, “First, We Take Manhattan”, “Dance Me to the End of Love”, and of course “Hallelujah”, a wonderful song that was covered by just about everyone (Willie Nelson, Elton John, Bono, Rufus Wainwright, John Cale, K.D. Lang, Jeff Buckley, …). “The Essentials” compilation continues with some nice hits from the 90’s: “The Future”, “Waiting For a Miracle”, and also “Anthem” which brought us the wonderful phrase “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. The album finally ends with four songs from the 2001 CD “Ten New Songs”, which he made with Sharon Robinson (a frequent collaborator of his).

Two heartbreaking omissions on “The Essentials” compilation: “Teachers” and “Master Song”. How could those two masterpieces from his first album not be considered essentials?!! But it’s OK, I forgive you, Leonard Cohen. In a world dominated by insipid sorta-dance music about cheap booty-calls, this timeless music fills the heart and mind. Leonard is an artist who can accompany you your whole life. His genius, poetic and touching lyrics about human desires, his beautiful melodies, and his distinctive hypnotic voice, constitute quite the musical work of art. While I think that his first albums are unforgettable and comprise some of the greatest lyrics I have ever heard in my life, I do agree that all of his albums are worth listening to.