“I Think I’m Going Back…”Five pieces of music that moved me in 2022

Son Little / Like Neptune
It’s as if Shuggie Otis walked into a recording studio in the middle of a nodded-out Sly Stone session and found Bruce Langhorne in the corner making his sound tapestries for Dennis Hopper’s The Hired Hand. It sounds like the 60s, now, as modern as tomorrow, as old as yesterday. I bought ten copies to give to friends I thought might like it. It’s that good.

Aimee Mann / Queens of the Summer Hotel 
Asked by Barbara Broccoli to write a musical based on Suzanne Keyser’s astonishing memoir, Girl Interrupted, Mann delivered something that was simultaneously beautiful, funny and heartbreaking. The music didn’t lose Mann’s very particular melodic sensibility while still convincing as being Off-Broadway bound. Powered by piano and double bass and Paul Bryan’s beautiful string arrangements, the songs swirl and swoon and spotlight the deeper, creepy undercurrents of the story. The lyrics were non-pareil, conjuring episodes and anecdotes into smart verses and punchy choruses. One song, “Suicide is Murder”, contains the greatest lyrics I heard this year. If it doesn’t reach The Great White Way, then no matter. It’s 40 minutes of shimmering perfection, doing justice to a unique book.

Alison Russell / Outside Child [May 2021, sent to me by T.C. this year]
Awful subject matter exorcised through sublime French Americana, with her clarinet and banjo as a thread that draws the narrative on. Written by Russell and JT Nero, her partner, it’s recorded [mostly] live in Nashville and beautifully produced and mixed by Dan Knobler. Her fluid and beautiful voice takes the listener from childhood in Montreal to motherhood in Nashville. I can’t improve on Joe Henry’s words: “Outside Child draws water from the dark well of a violent past. Though iron-hard in their concerns, the songs themselves are exultant: exercising haunted dreamlike clean bedsheets snapped and hung out into broad daylight, and with the romantic poet’s lust for living and audacity of endurance. This music, no less –– no less –– is a triumph: a courageous work, burnished and bright; unspeakably beautiful as she sings the unspeakable.”

Harry Styles / “As it Was”
My favourite working music was, hands down, Harry’s House. It’s light and free, full of affection and swoon. Plentiful earworms and, like bronze-dye pasta’s way with a sauce, just enough roughness to delicately catch your ear without fully distracting. Top of the pops was the single “As it Was”, which I must have played 200 times and still love. It filled the same place in the summer as Lorde’s Solar [“Lead the boys and girls onto the beaches / Come one, come all, I’ll tell you my secrets / I’m kinda like a prettier Jesus…”] did last year. I originally listened to Harry because I was intrigued that he’d hired Sarah Jones as his live drummer — I figured that showed he had good taste. I had seen her playing with Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip at the RFH, where he supported Lonnie Holley and was hypnotised by her drumming. While his acting appearances have been all-around awful, his way with a pop tune and his choice of collaborators has been impeccable.

Bryan Ferry / “Where or When” [As Time Goes By, 1999]
Found in a junkshop, Ferry’s Jazz Age album uses a fine group of musicians arranged by pianist Colin Good. I don’t remember hearing Rodgers and Hart’s beautiful song before I put this CD on, which seems mad, as it’s one of the most-covered songs in the GAS. It’s a gorgeous meditation on Deja Vu from Babes in Arms, a 1937 musical which also gave the crooners of the day “Lady is a Tramp”, “I Wish I Were in Love Again”, and My Funny Valentine. Some hit rate… I obviously went and listened to 25 versions, including the hit by Dion and the Belmonts’ (written about as the last chapter of Bob’s bizarre Philosophy of Modern Song), but none of them touched me like Ferry’s. It creeps in on the back of an ondes martenot played by the brilliant Cynthia Millar; as Bob says, “the swirling dreamlike quality of Rodgers’ tune gives the listener a feeling of time as mysterious and complex as anything by Stephen Hawking”.The ondes, somewhat like a keyboard-based theremin, give an uncanny and sensual air to the melody. Ferry takes the song gently in his cupped hands and sings it in a bruised whisper, hushingly alighting on the melody, encapsulating the gauzy reverie of the lyric. Beautiful.

* The ondes Martenot [“Martenot waves”] is an early electronic musical instrument. It is played with a keyboard or by moving a ring along a wire, creating “wavering” sounds similar to a theremin. It was invented in 1928 by the French inventor Maurice Martenot. Martenot was inspired by the accidental overlaps of tones between military radio oscillators and wanted to create an instrument with the expressiveness of the cello.

Comments

  1. I’ve been trying to think what ‘As It Was’ reminds me of. Just can’t put my finger on it. It’s something like Josh Rouse (e.g. Quiet Town) singing, with the hook from that A-Ha song, Take On Me. Damn sure there’s something else out there though…. Catchy little beast, anyway.

  2. Chris Michie says:

    I’m glad you found the Ferry album, albeit in a junk shop two decades after its release. Here’s a positive review I wrote at the time: https://www.mixonline.com/recording/bryan-ferry-time-goes-virgin-373785

  3. mick gold says:

    That Son Little record is amazing. Weird scenes inside the gold mine. Happy new year, Martin

  4. Allison Russell was also the best gig of 2022, at the beautiful and intimate Omeara, in a railway arch in south London. An all female band (keyboards, guitar, viola and Russell herself on banjo and clarinet) delivered an absolutely joyous performance that verged on the religious.

  5. I’ve wanted to see Son Little in concert. Maybe it’ll happen this year. He lives in my region (greater Philadelphia), and performs around here now and then. Neil S.

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