Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Music Marathon 2007, Part 7 (The Frames – Griffin, Patty)

with 3 comments

Listening is slightly slow-going, since we had a party to host last night, and it’s a long weekend for me (I do most of my cd-listening at work). The marathon continues, however.

The Frames – The Cost

Until this year, I had only a passing familiarity with the Frames. Planning for my honeymoon in Ireland a few years ago, I picked up a book on the Dublin music scene, hoping we’d have some time to check out some live acts while there (it didn’t pan out). I was surprised to find out exactly what a huge phenomenon the Frames were in their hometown and subsequently bought their excellent live album, Set List, a collection of earnest, energetic anthems and slow-burners that brought to mind, at different points, Springsteen, Ani DiFranco, Midnight Oil, and even Fugazi. For whatever reason, I never explored their other releases, but Once, possibly my favorite movie-to-date this year, renewed my interest in Glen Hansard and company.

There’s a little overlap on The Cost with the soundtrack to that film, with different versions of “Falling Slowly” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up” popping up on each. Both songs are highlights on The Cost and on the Once soundtrack, though I have a slight preference for the soundtrack versions, at least of the former, which Hansard performs as a duet with Markéta Irglová (though the majestic opening of the Frames’ version also holds a lot of appeal). In fact, one might expect The Cost to suffer in comparison with the Once soundtrack, in general, and it does… but just a little. Generally speaking, it’s a terrific collection of big songs, and, aside from the Once repeats, it has a lot to offer in songs like “People Get Ready” (not a Curtis Mayfield cover), “Sad Songs,” and “Song for Someone.” Since more people are bound to hear the Once soundtrack than The Cost, I’ll put it this way: I highly recommend this to those Once fans who want a little more of Hansard in the same mode.

The Good Life – Help Wanted Nights

One downside, among others, of doing this year-end rundown is that it doesn’t give me much time to take in the CDs I get in November and December. I’ve only listened to Help Wanted Nights a couple of times, and it’s just beginning to sink in. To anyone who’s listened to Tim Kasher’s songs (on his work with Cursive or with the Good Life), there shouldn’t be anything too surprising here. Since Kasher’s last release with the Good Life, Album of the Year, came out in 2004, he revised Cursive’s sound to include horn parts and a greater focus, culminating in last year’s amazing Happy Hollow.

With these recent experimental tendencies in mind, it’s a little surprising to hear The Good Life sticking to the slow, straightforward relationship ruminations that characterized their earlier work. In fact, it’s dialed down a little from Album of the Year, which took the band a tiny bit closer to the scrappier, louder sound of Cursive and even had an up-tempo pop moment in the terrific “Lovers Need Lawyers,” a departure from both The Good Life and Cursive in its deceptive, melodic buoyancy (the closest Kasher comes to that sort of pop songwriting here is “Keely Aimee,” which is pretty good). “Lovers Need Lawyers” might make one wish Kasher had taken this project fully in that direction if it weren’t for the fact the dirge-y, folk-influenced material tends to be so very good at framing Kasher’s lyrics about relationship turmoil (it seems like he’s been trying for years to unseat Greg Dulli as the champ of decrying women as “whores” in the interest of developing characters that may or may not be at all representative of himself – this is also dialed down a little on Help Wanted Nights).

Anyway, it’s still too soon to tell on this one. I listened to Album of the Year recently, and I had forgotten just how good it is. This doesn’t share its immediacy, and it’s not a slam-dunk killer like Happy Hollow, but it’s worth checking out.

Patty Griffin – Children Running Through

Griffin occupies an interesting place in pop music. Starting out with the all-acoustic, all-solo Living With Ghosts, she could have gone in many different directions – earnest indie-folk, mainstream classic-rock-influenced pop a la Sheryl Crow, adult contemporary star in the mold of Bonnie Raitt, alt-country. Since then, she’s toyed with a number of these and others, but, oddly enough, has found the most success writing songs (or being covered) by mainstream country artists like the Dixie Chicks and Miranda Lambert, functioning in a similar way to how Butch Walker and Linda Perry function for pop acts with guitar-rock aspirations. This works out great for these acts (and for Griffin, herself, from a financial standpoint, one assumes), but casual listeners might miss out on Griffin’s other strength, her powerful and nuanced voice, an extraordinarily soulful instrument with just enough rasp. On Children Running Through, it gets a workout in a bunch of contexts, including two tracks, “Getting Ready” and “No Bad News” (with a mid-song horn part that evokes Calexico) that rock more than anything she’s done since her second album, Flaming Red (1998), and a duet with Emmylou Harris that makes you wish for a whole album of duets between the two of them.

Griffin also includes another mysterious, moody piano-led song in the spirit of Impossible Dream‘s “Mother of God.” “Burgundy Shoes” initially almost comes off like a clone of the earlier song, but as it’s fleshed out, both lyrically and musically, it takes on a pretty miraculous life of its own. On the surface, it’s a series of snapshots of a New England girl’s memories of her mother, but the melancholic tone and the unnervingly vague, repeated one-word chorus of “sun” amidst a swelling practically worthy of Sigur Ros suggests unbearable loss. It requires an enormous amount of confidence for a songwriter to pin the meaning of her song on one word, and it takes even more talent as a singer to make it work perfectly. Children Running Through loses its velocity toward the end with a few too many ballads, but Griffin still hasn’t released a bad album yet.

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Written by Dave

December 9, 2007 at 5:00 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I just realised that there’s no Georgie James on this list!

    Patrick Ripoll

    December 18, 2007 at 12:29 pm

  2. Nope. I had to look them up, actually. I like some of Q and Not U’s stuff, but I guess not to the point that I followed the band members after the breakup. Worthwhile?

    Dave

    December 18, 2007 at 1:35 pm

  3. I like them a lot. But I’m actually not familiar with any of Q and Not U, so I can’t really say how it compares.

    Patrick Ripoll

    December 18, 2007 at 7:01 pm


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