of my favorite albums released last year came from a talented south suburban
singer-songwriter named Lisa McClowry. Spyglass Hill is an album
of easy listening love songs featuring full band and orchestra-augmented arrangements
underscoring McClowry’s smoky, sensual, emotive pipes. The centerpiece is "There
Will Never Be Another You," a showstopping big ballad of depth and beauty
that still brings a tear to my eye nearly a year after I first heard it. "Purest
Ecstasy" is another highlight, a Sarah McLachlan-esque bit of exotic percussion
mood. And "Take Me Back To Yesterday" is an upbeat bit of pop perfection
that should have found its way onto Top 40 radio last year without a problem
(except for the fact that this is a completely independent release and didn’t
have the push of a major label like Arista or Warner Bros. or RCA behind it
– so radio never noticed it). Why am I going on about an album that’s a year
old? Because in making Spyglass Hill, McClowry hooked up with ex-Devo
leader and "Rugrats" score composer Mark Mothersbaugh. The two penned
a warm, slow ballad called "Through The Eyes of a Child," which didn’t
originally appear on Spyglass Hill, but instead found a home on the soundtrack
to the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie last year. This month, McClowry has
reissued Spyglass Hill with the addition of "Through The Eyes of
a Child." That song will also play a part in the March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon
happening across the U.S. this last weekend in April. McClowry will be performing
both the National Anthem and "Through the Eyes of A Child" the day of the walk
here in Chicago. She’ll also be donating part of the proceeds of Spyglass Hill
to the March of Dimes. So if you didn’t catch the disc last year, look it up
now at http://www.lisamcclowry.com.
You can also listen to samples at http://www.mp3.com/lisamcclowry.
Oldies collectors can now get the works of Memphis early rock/R&B acts Ace Cannon and Bill Black’s Combo from The Right Stuff label. The Best of Ace Cannon The Hi Records Years and The Best of Bill Black’s Combo The Hi Records Years both feature 18 tracks taken from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s just after Bill Black stepped down from his role as a bassist for Elvis Presley. Cannon played sax for the Combo briefly before making his own mark with a couple early ‘60s hits in "Tuff" and "Blues (Stay Away From Me)." At one point these artists had exposure through Ed Sullivan and their records were all across the country on the jukebox circuit. But there are probably very few who remember the gigs that the Bill Black Combo did opening for the band that would eclipse the whole Memphis hit machine: The Beatles. Black died of a brain tumor in 1965, but his records (and his band) carried on. Among the instrumental organ-sax led hits collected on this disc are the Top 20 hits "White Silver Sands," "Blue Tango" and "Don’t Be Cruel," a lyric-less remake of the Elvis hit that Black also played on.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
No More Shall We Part
"To be alive again …wakin' up from where you been
younger now than you were then
you're comin' 'round again."
— Journey, "To Be Alive Again"
The best word to describe the work of
Nick Cave and his half dozen longstanding Bad Seeds is "moody." Cave
is a singular artist who works in a variety of styles, but always with an underpinning
of darkness. His past two discs consisted of Murder Ballads (1996), a
collection of both traditional campfire/minstrel-style songs about murder paired
with some new Cave originals, including a disturbing duet with Kylie Minogue.
Then in 1997 he unleashed a slightly more modern-leaning effort in The Boatman’s
Call, which references the ancient myth of Charon in its title, but deals
thematically with the broad themes of loss and longing. With No More Shall
We Part, Cave continues that exploration, but with a more religious underpinning,
noted in song titles like "Hallelujah," "God Is In The House,"
and "Oh My Lord." This trace of Gospel influence does little to dissuade
Cage’s natural tendency towards pining about the prospects of the grave. In
"Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow" he crafts a classic "death
ballad" asking "Where is Michael?/Where is Mark?/Where is Mathew?/Now
it’s getting dark…They are all out back under 15 feet of pure white snow."
"Hallelujah" comes from an ailing narrator who has briefly escaped his nurse to take what might be his last walk in the country. It’s a moving piece, capped by a chorus of women at the end echoing the narrator’s pain as they sing "Hallelujah, the tears are welling in my eyes again/Hallelujah, I need twenty big buckets to catchy them in/Hallelujah, and twenty pretty girls to carry them down/Hallelujah, and twenty deep holes to bury them in."Cage has the perfect voice to carry all this off; a heavy, weathered vox that sometimes hints at John Hiatt’s folkishness or Roger Waters’ low angered intensity or even, occasionally, Dylan’s storytelling raspiness. He always sounds authentically road-weary as he spins these dreary late night stories of despair and death and disintegration.Sound miserable? Well, it does take a certain mindset to appreciate. This is not the soundtrack for a summer party (unless you’re going to have quiet sidebar conversations with small groups talking of the meaning of life and philosophy).
Sometimes Cage’s sensibilities and quiet string and piano arrangements are reminisicent of This Mortal Coil’s celebrations of "the dark side" in the ‘80s. And sometimes he seems a throwback to the ancient folk minstrels of old. In either case, he’s always a fascinating character, and his latest batch of songs, from the aching, piano-dirge of the title track "No More Shall We Part" to the personal hymnlike prayer of "Oh My Lord" to the eerie piano hook of "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side," are required listening for anyone who occasionally appreciates the disturbing beauty of graveflowers.