It’s always accidental when Peter Kearns likes something that other people like, too. But sometimes it happens, like on today’s Juju Jukebox playlist.
PHILADELPHIA SOUL SONGSTRESS and actress Jill Scott has got the right idea. She’s done at least one album that was designed to be not listened to. Well, it was for playing to sleeping babies but wasn’t designed to be consumed as your usual contemporary soul fare. Ironically, her next and most recent offering, Woman, hit number 1 on the Billboard album charts. I hate it when that happens – when I like something and then discover later that it’s already a hit. I made the same faux pas with Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special. I should know better. What can I say? I don’t listen to radio or watch TV music channels. I rely on nothing but my own objectivity. My personal taste doesn’t, and no outside influence does, come into it. If I was to state what I considered the best album of the year, and also stated my personal favourite, they would be two different things.
Back to Jill. She’s hard to forget, with that big but subtle, endearing but off-hand vocal expression – a force I wasn’t aware of until her Andre Harris-produced deep cut, ‘Prepared’, stopped me in my tracks. Hear it as the first song on today’s playlist below.
This is the problem when a track with that indefinable something suddenly raises the bar. The same thing happened with the Boz Scaggs song included here, ‘Last Tango On 16th Street’. Suddenly, everything I heard afterwards sounded like utter bollocks. Finding songs that would equally impress was going to be hard. The Waterboys creeper, ‘November Tale’, fit the bill with its finely crafted lyric and un-intrusive deft arrangement. Seventy three-year-old Seasick Steve and his strident blues romp, ‘Barracuda ‘68’, were also sitters for inclusion, and of course Marcus Miller’s bass virtuosity speaks for itself if jazz or funk is your thing.
But the remaining tracks here probably fall into the category of best tracks on albums full of duds. Perhaps not the Mark Knopfler, whose songwriting ability you clearly can’t argue with. But even he has the ability to kind of put me in a daze. But then, the worst songs on his new plastic donut, Tracker, are probably way better than the best ones on the remaining other albums included this week. I’d be crazy to write him off just because too much soft acoustic music can bore me. I merely require that songs really take me somewhere, somehow, whether it’s through the writing or the arrangement/atmosphere. I could listen to Nick Drake all day and that’s about as acoustic as you can get. But who writes like that anymore? Laura Marling is trying. Some of you might notice here how her haunting track, ‘Warrior’, channels the ghost of Drake while simultaneously giving a nod to Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny, Suzanne Vega and any number of folksters whose songs Laura clearly emulated in order to forge her own sound, which hasn’t happened yet by the way. Maybe that’s because she spends too much time drinking and listening to 78s.
But I’d also be crazy to dismiss someone if I happen to view them as unoriginal. Many ‘real’ critics seem to expect artists to have an original spin on what they’re doing, if indeed not be true originals. And most listeners in general need music to fall into their preferred style and/or energy level before they can like it (hard rock, easy listening, whatever), which has nothing to do with the music and everything to do with personal preference and subjectivity. Original or not, for me it needs to be interesting and forward-moving, like a freight train for the ears that grabs you and won’t let go. A clumsy metaphor, but you get my drift. That’s what the first half of today’s playlist does for me. Second half, not so much, but still good. You decide. PETER KEARNS