Pilgrim’s Playlist: The Jayhawks, Iggy Pop, Janis Joplin



New Albums

The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust

It’s hard to believe the Jayhawks have been around for more than 30 years now. That’s a lot of time flying under the radar. Lead singer and guitarist Gary Louris is back alone at the helm again after 2011’s reunion with former partner Mark Olson dissolved unhappily. But Louris has upped his game and delivered a surprisingly strong album.

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The Jayhawks have always had a knack for finding the sweet spot in a folk-rock melody without drifting into saccharine cheese (yecch). The band’s beautiful harmonies, led by keyboard player Karen Grotberg, are stronger than ever. They have a natural musicality that has always reminded me of a less-adventurous but more-polished Yo La Tengo.

The real upshot is that Louris pushes his musical explorations maybe further than I’ve ever heard before on a few tracks, and these are the songs I ended up enjoying the most. “Ace” is an amazing avant-garde sonic guitar jam, and “Lost The Summer” has a muscular syncopation that is a perfect complement to the sweet delicacies served before and after it.

Louris manages to coax some beautiful fuzz-grunge tones out of his guitar, while drum loops and electronic tones are welcome additions to the Jayhawks’ arsenal. Lots of credit is due producer Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame, whose influence is clearly heard, and who obviously relished the opportunity to share his musical instincts with such a talented and experienced bunch.

 

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Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Iggy Pop says this is his last album, and if that’s true, he’s going out swinging. I’ve really fallen in love with this uneven but amazing record. I mean, there are a couple of moments when things ground down to a lugubrious dirge, but they are more than offset by some incredible high points of Rock excellence.

Josh Homme – the collaborator’s collaborator – brings his gift for building great melodies on top of fierce, angular, innovative riffs and rhythms. And Iggy sounds like a man who has stared mortality in the face and laughed. His lyrics are rich and funny and brutally honest, and it seems as if he was eager to table his viewpoints on materialism, the information age, and of course his own demons:

This street is as cold as a corporate lawsuit
A pride I can’t catch telling me to wipe my boot
I’m a wreck, what did you expect…
Got all I need and it is killing me and you

Iggy is in typically fine growly vocal form, even offering up a trademark “tra-la-la-la, la-la-la-la”, and occasionally surprising with his tuneful range. On the album’s amazing closer “Paraguay”, he muses about the freedom of wild animals, ponders an escape to the South American jungle, and then lets rip a spoken word screed over a powerful chanted soundscape that has to be heard to be believed. It’s a swan song for the ages.

 

Forgotten Gems

 

Janis Joplin – Little Girl Blue (1969)

I watched that excellent Janis Joplin documentary on PBS last week and wow, her story is even more sad and tragic than I thought. While people talk about her electrifying vocals and stage presence, not enough is said about her unique musical vision. She was obviously influenced by the Blues like most Rock acts of the late ‘60s, and she leaned heavily on R&B and Soul idioms too. But what other ‘60s Rocker drew inspiration from Broadway showtunes like Janis did? There was Gershwin’s “Summertime” and then this haunting take on a Rodgers and Hart number from 1935. Who knows where her interpretations of the old standards may have led?

 

Howard Tate – Get It While You Can (1966)

Janis had an odd affinity for songs written by Brill Building producer Jerry Ragovoy. His most famous song is said to be “Time Is On My Side”, which ignited the Stones’ career in 1964, but he also wrote a few of Janis’ bigger numbers, including “Cry Baby”, “Get It While You Can”, “Piece Of My Heart” and “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”. I had never heard this original before, it’s fun to imagine Janis hearing it for the first time too.

 

 

 

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