I think it's supposed to happen in one's Jesus Year, the 33rd birthday, where a man's fundamental crisis is supposed to take place, when things shift into a new direction. As with most things in life, I'm a few years late on that, but I can feel the ridges of the downward spiral curling up through my veins, casting my eyes to the horizon to the endgame. It's not a sad thing, but a bit of a melancholy one. I can testify that the stalwart passions of youth are falling away like dandruff and that I am coming into new, more refined age of Not Giving a Fuck, except now that fuck can be withheld without needing to clench my fist or brace for the fight. The world no longer gives a fuck, or rather, I'm realizing that it doesn't, and through this denial of fucks all around, I am free. The distressing thing is- I've looked at what I do with that freedom.
This morning I spent the day listening to The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, that's what I did with my freedom. Ten years ago, had I passed me on the street, strains of "Gimme Three Steps" leaking out of my headphones, ooooh I'd be overwhelmed with righteous disgust. I suppose the fact that I was tooling around in my 10+ year old Corolla blasting "Whipping Post" from shot speakers, and not from a red Camaro while wearing golf clothes tempers the situation a bit, but it's all empty justification anyway. Should most of the people I know catch me rockin' to some Skynyrd, they will sigh finally...e's figured it out. What they don't get is that I figured out both angles, how to weave anachronism and exploration into a pleasing afghan to drape over my tired bones when the cold wind of night blows. Here in triumph, I present a couple records that seem to wedge perfectly in the edges of the chasm between comfortable and cool across which I find myself straddling.
Woke on a Whaleheart
The poet formerly known as "Smog" and "(Smog)" has for the time being dropped the foolishness of pseudonyms on this record, which seems like the similar quiet bravery one exhibits when they post on a message board under their own name. This record has some of the trappings of his last sublime Smog missive A River Ain't Too Much too Love: words more spoken than sung, right up in front of everything, but things here are looser, more relaxed I think. Wafts of The Band and Leonard Cohen are conjured up in this brew, especially on "The Wheel" and "Day" as well as its counterpoint "Night" that follows - perhaps not a small dose of Kris Kristofferson as well. They are complex, wordy, convoluted songs that possess that blurred nakedness that marks the best Smog material. They thing here that id different is that he sounds happy. Not dopey love-struck, but happy. Take "Honeymoon Child" where he almost gets airy in his sweet openness, drifting along with the strings that come in halfway through. Or the echoey cowpoke lope of "A Man Needs a Woman or a Man" - it has that Johnny Cash shuffle that allows one to hide one's fangs behind a wide smile that makes it beautiful. This is an elegant, beguiling record, one with marked maturity and even temperament. For better or worse, I can see an Austin City Limits appearance in Mr. Callahan's future. And I will be on the power spot on the couch that glorious Sunday watching it.
Against Which the Sea Continually Beats
(Strange Attractors Audio House)
Principal musical master mind behind Boston's unrelentingly experimental unit Cul de Sac, Glenn Jones dons his best John Fahey/Townes Van Zandt guise on this extraordinary instrumental acoustic guitar record. Unlike most music in the folk section, this is not hokey fare recorded with enough studio polish to leave the taste of Pledge on your tongue, nor is it rustic vintage scratch recordings. It's just a suite of transcendental guitar work that will blow off the dust of whatever reality you were clinging too before putting this on. The Fahey associations are unavoidable, given the cavernous 12-string apocalypse that come issuing from his fingers on "David & The Phoenix" and "Freedom Raga" but to these ears, the real influence is Townes van Zandt's guitar phrasing, one that was as adept at bumming out a room as were his voice and words. There is a resolute sadness in this record. Even the vaguely Hawaiian "Richard Nixon Orchid" is sepia-toned under all those chuckling slide runs. Numbers like "Heartbreak Hill" really dominate this record, living in a place just short of Will Ackerman's Windham Hill work form the 80's. There is as much Jimmy Page as there is Leo Kottke in his delivery, but no matter what influence graph I might try to erect, the autumnal beauty of his tone and rhythm come bleeding through. It stands out from other virtuoso folk outings; it seems, by sitting down.
God Save the Clientele
On the two releases above, however, I am skirting the real inevitability I am most afraid of: soft rock. It's taken me years to come to terms with soft rock, that there is just as much power in it as the more explosive music I adore in these pages. Its energy is potential rather than kinetic. The trick to great soft-rock is to avoid being saccharine, and The Clientele sashay dangerously close to that edge with alarming acuity. It seems they have come out of same the Monkees-lover closet that a number of local musicians I know have, and once I finished spitting out my bile, I had to concede that I kinda like The Monkees too. Sure is feather pillow soft. No bar fight will ever be staged with "Daydream Believer" blaring out the jukebox. Yet, there is a glacial power and grace to it that I might just be at the point in life to appreciate. Most of the songs on God Save the Clientele never reach a speed to far past idle, but that's OK, because each continues the gossamer haze of the last. "Isn't Life Strange" is a prom-ready wistful number replete with sly harmonies that encircle you before you see them coming. "From Brighton Beach to Santa Monica" is sweeping enough to have been lifted from some scenery heavy Audrey Hepburn movie. Maybe all of the songs. I flip through them trying to find a favorite, but before I can get a hold on them, they ease right out of my grasp. Its elegant background music brought up to the edge of the stage so you can witness the intricacy therein. If you dig your old Prefab Sprout records, your recent belle and Sebastian ones, the Clientele will find an excellent spot in your life. And should you be afraid that all will turn to much, "The Garden at Night" comes along with a wild moment of Television-grade guitar attack, just to let everyone know that you still have a some fire in you.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com