Sunday, January 20, 2008

Neneh, meet Townes

I picked up my Townes Van Zandt "At my window" cd a few days ago, and thought I had grabbed the wrong one. At a glance, the Van Zandt cover looks surprisingly similar -- in color and composition -- to the cover of Neneh Cherry's "Homebrew". See for yourself...

different, but similar...

Not that it really means much, but I found it interesting that cd's featuring two vastly different styles of music would have such similar covers. Even more interesting, each cd contains one of my favorite slow-tempo, reflective, somber songs -- soft, soothing, contemplative, and ideal for relaxation, especially on the heels of a tough day.

Featured in the Wim Wenders film "Until the End of the World" (and on its soundtrack), Neneh Cherry's "Move with Me" features a striking blend of an apocalyptic, sorrowful melody and passionate, soulful vocals uttering haunting lines like, "I'm just a grain of sand walking in a sea of people, I look around me and my name is just 'someone'". It was easily one of my favorite tunes of the 1990s; the movie that featured it wasn't bad, either.

I used to love to listen to this song while driving across the west Texas desert, watching the scenery roll past my windows -- yuccas and ocotillos dotting endless prairies of yellow grass, with rugged gray mountains on the distant horizon -- a perfect visual background for such an amazing song. A phrase I've used to describe most of Mazzy Star's catalog (also entirely appropriate for west Texas) comes to mind -- lonely and beautiful music for a lonely and beautiful place.

The simpler of the two songs, Townes Van Zandt's "the Catfish Song"features Van Zandt's forlorn and rugged voice singing a poetic, metaphoric tale of dying love. Employing a "less is more" approach, the only instrumental background is provided by a simple piano and just a touch of violin. "I'll kindle my fires with the words I can't send you and the roads I can't follow and the songs I can't sing, I'll wander alone on the sleighbells of winter with the stars for a diamond and the world for a ring." Verses like these are textbook examples of the kind of work that has helped build Townes' reputation as one of the most talented lyricists of our time. Wasn't it Steve Earle who said, "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that"?

It doesn't really matter if the cover art causes me to get these cd's mixed up; I could listen to either -- or both -- of these songs all day long. As a matter of fact, I just might...


np: Johnny Bush - "Blaines"

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