In preparation for Valentine's Day -- and our 44th Anniversary -- I've been spinning some love songs in my head.
Love is something that must be sung about. (If you don't feel like singing about it, it's probably not love.)
Love songs come in all styles, all varieties. Here are three of my favorites:
DELICATE – by DAMIEN RICE (1997)
What is it about Irish artists? How that small island can produce so many fine writers, musicians, actors, etc. is one of the wonderful mysteries of civilization.
Born in County Kildare in 1973, Damien Rice has released only three albums in twelve years, and only the first "O" made much impact. But his style -- equal parts Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke, with a dash of Nick Drake thrown in – pleases me more than the first two guys and as much as the last. Some people attribute Damien's comparative lack of production to his break-up with his girlfriend/muse Lisa Hannigan. I wish he'd release more music. His best – like "Delicate" – is quite special.
Sample great lyric: "Why'd ya sing 'hallelujah' / If it meant nothing to ya?"
I saw Damien live just by chance: one song, at one special concert. He showed up for a night of "Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell and Friends" at the Troubadour in Hollywood and sang "The Blower's Daughter," his other great song, with Emmylou. It was spectacular.
Mike Nichols had a great sense of music in his movies (Simon & Garfunkel in "The Graduate," anyone?) He used Damien Rice's songs extensively in his 2004 film of Partrick Marber's play "Closer" – with Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law, and Natalie Portman – but the film never caught on in the way that it should have. I'm sure the play is even better; I know the music is.
Damien Rice – live "Delicate" – Two voices, two instruments = magic
"The Blower's Daughter" – his other great song – "And so it is."
SOME OTHER TIME – by TONY BENNETT & BILL EVANS (1975)
Perhaps the ultimate missed-love/lost-love song, this standard is from the 1944 Broadway musical ON THE TOWN. Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
This recording is a real masterpiece. Tony Bennett said that the work he did with Bill Evans was the best of his career. He almost tries too hard to measure up to Evans' genius – his "ooohhs" -- but it all works.
I was lucky enough to see Tony B. very close up at the House of Blues in Hollywood about ten years ago. He was GREAT. At the peak of his powers.
To my eternal regret, I passed up a chance to hear the Bill Evans Trio at Ronnie Scott's in London in 1971. It's on my short list of Good Things I Missed (perhaps the subject for another blog.) Evans was dead nine years later. But his recordings live on. I spend a lot of time with the famous Village Vanguard shows from 1961. A lot of people don't realize that the musical mind behind the largest selling jazz record of all time -- Miles Davis' KIND OF BLUE – was, in fact, Bill Evans.
I've put this recording on many CD compilations that I've made over the years, including background music at a few funerals and wakes. I fully expect the TG to play this recording at my funeral.
Tony and Bill's great record
Bill Evans Trio – Some Other Time -- Recorded Live on December 17, 1972 at l'ORTF a Paris, France.
from the 1960 studio recording with members of the original cast of ON THE TOWN – with Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Nancy Walker, and others
Tony Bennett and Bill Evans sing "When In Rome" – on "The Tonight Show"
CARRYING YOUR LOVE WITH ME – by GEORGE STRAIT (1997)
Looking back on this blog, which I've been writing for more than a year, I can't believe that I've hardly mentioned George Strait. I listen to a lot of country music, and there are few artists whom I listen to and who have given me more pleasure in the past thirty years than King George.
He's not a songwriter, and he stays very close to the middle of the road of Neotraditional Country, and he's kind of bland. But he has a GREAT voice – rich, yet light – like all the great singers. And he knows what he does best: sing good, basic songs.
He has had an enormous career -- sixty Number One songs, Artist of the Decade (2000s), many times Entertainer of the Year, Country Music Hall of Fame, etc. – and enough hits to make him the 12th biggest selling artist of all time, regardless of genre.
But I love George not for his hits; I love him for his deep album cuts of great Texas swing ... his unerring way with a ballad ... his top-flight bands ... his and producer Tony Brown's way of choosing songs and building albums, using songwriters like Bruce Robison, Guy Clark, Jim Lauderdale, and others ... and his consistency. Nobody has made music this popular, this good, for so long.
Since 1981 when his first album "Strait Country" was released, I've bought virtually all his albums. Some are stronger than others, and he definitely had a career-boost when he changed producers and went with Tony Brown, but he's basically been putting out good-to-great music for more than thirty years.
"Carrying Your Love With Me" was released in 1997. It's one of his many power ballads. (I hate that term, but it's descriptive.) It was written by Nashville pros Steve Bogard and Jeff Stevens. King George and Tony Brown cull the best from Music Row's craftsmen.
I can listen to George Strait all day. (I had to make two discs of "Best Of" to hold all of my favorites.) In the totality of his body of work, he is the only singer of my time who approaches the vicinity of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
King George sings "Carrying You Love With Me" live at the Country Music Association Awards from 1997
King George sings it a stadium show – Raymond James Stadium in Tampa from 1999
"Giving It All We Got" – another great George ballad – still doing it in 2013
"Amarillo By Morning" – another great George ballad, his signature song – from 1987
Three more next week, closer to Valentine's Day.