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January 22, 2008

Songs/Albums Bought This Week & the Lessons Learned

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Smif-n-Wessun ''Wreckonize'' (remix) (1995): This song has proven tough to find. Originally appearing as the b-side to the New Yorker's ''Sound Bwoy Bureill'', I first heard this non-LP version as a Youtube video two years ago.

The song is much different to the version which appeared on the group's first album Dah Shinin', and, I think, superior. Remixed with Bill Withers'/Grover Washington's ''Just the Two of Us'' the two rappers also altered all of the lyrics to the song's verses; they now stand as an earnest ''rising up/staying strong'' plea for self-awareness. At least, I think so:

Early to rise, so wake/
wake before day break/
Meditating on the steps I take/
I realise there's a lot at stake.

Last week, I found the CD single on Amazon for a cool US$100. Then I discovered the track on the iTunes store for US$1.69. My lesson? The iTunes store is awesome.

Van Morrison Astral Weeks (1968): Proves that soul and vitality may be achieved through a process that could prove fatal if repeated: namely, artistically mapping the surfeit of human pain and suffering and pin-pointing its anchor--isolation.

It is both a harrowing and comforting album. Harrowing because Van sings so close to the bone; comforting because it's good to know we share this earth with such talented canaries who can work so close to, and so compassionately with, the coal face.

OST Juno (2008): Belle and Sebastian, Mott the Hoople, Velvet Underground, Buddy Holly, and a score by Kimya Dawson and her old band the Moldy Peaches--what could be better? For me this week, very little else.

The Buddy Holly song, ''Dearest'' sent me rocketing back to the ol' days when Dad would play him incessantly. I learnt the story pretty well--you know, ''the Day the Music Died''--when Richie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly perished when their small aircraft crashed into an Iowan field on February 3, 1959. Buddy was just 22, and yet had already carved a musical career so vivid and exciting that two teenagers called Lennon and McCartney were taking note on the other side of the Atlantic.

My father played a lot of Don McLean also, and so McLean's famous 1971 eulogy of the crash marked out a special place for me, too. Having now witnessed 1,001 pub-band covers of ''American Pie'', and seen Madonna chew it up into a pulpy mess, I may have had enough.

The soundtrack's final song is of the film's two leads--Ellen Page and Michael Cera--covering the Moldy Peaches' ''Anyone Else But You''. At the close of the film, the two teen lovers stoop it with their guitars, each taking turns at singing the verses. The tone of the scene is perfect. So is the song:

Here is the church and here is the steeple
We sure are cute for two ugly people
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
...But you.

The soundtrack's clever and warm, just like the film it's nestled in (other artists featured include: Cat Power, Sonic Youth, The Kinks, and children's artist Barry Louis Polisar).

Van Morrison It's All Right (2004?): After multiple listens of Astral Weeks, I wondered if anyone could ever sound so bloody haunting as the original existentialist mystic, or whatever the hell Van the Man became when he started putting lyrics and tunes to our psychic stench. Maybe not--but on this record (a random collection of songs, not an album proper) I discovered ''T.B. Sheets'', a ''monstrously powerful'' blues track that stretches creepily for ten-minutes and induces claustrophobia. I'm serious. ''T.B.'' here means tuberculosis, and the raw, bluesy vehicle carries Van's tortured remembrance of being bedside to a lover dying of the disease.

I recalled the track from the opening of Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead (Marty loves Van) where the song provides the scene with the death-and-ghosts-are-everywhere otherness which would more or less remain as the film's defining phantasmata. The kicker--with the film and with the song--is that we once knew the ghosts before they were dead.

But skip away from this, and buried down the bottom of the disc is a live recording of ''Chick-a-boom''--a Latino stomper with a monster riff and Van's inspired wauling can, this time, have some fun:

A-hey, girl,
I'm goin' away,
but I'm comin' back
with a ginger cat.
What ya' think a' that?

I must have listened to this a dozen times on the first day I heard it. It's a classic to walk to, and an absolute relief to hear Van having some fun. At least, I hope he is.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at January 22, 2008 12:46 PM