Friday, July 3, 2009

Musical Matchmaking

The morning, as scheduled, the Middle-Aged Woman and I left the cozy confines of suburban Detroit for the small-town splendor of Petoskey, MI. (For those of you who need a map, please refer to this post.) In preparation for our departure last night, I created a couple of compilation CDs for Leslie and Larry.

One of the discs featured a selection of 25 Nat (King) Cole tracks, including his big hits and many personal favorites. I noticed Larry grooving to the King Cole Trio's Straighten Up And Fly Right during our drive home from Greenbush to Detroit on Monday and decided then and there to make sure that he receive a more in-depth exposure to Cole's music.

A slight digression: Jim Styro's Top Five Nat (King) Cole tracks
[This is very difficult...]

1. Straighten Up And Fly Right - This really swings. Such energy, so playful. Pure gold.
2. Nature Boy - Although I normally detest an artist rerecording their own work, some of Cole's tracks really benefit from the maturing of his voice and some fantastic new orchestral arrangements. This song is an example.
3. There Will Never Be Another You - A personal favorite. The man has so many astounding ballads that picking particular tracks is painful. The first time I ever heard this song was in the film version of The World According To Garp. A wonderful, heart-breaking lyric.
4. Stardust - As an amateur vocalist myself, I've got one question: how the HELL can he make this song sound so effortless?
5. Don't Get Around Much Anymore - What an arrangement! So smooth, so much swagger. It's the bomb. That's why he's the King. (Jump back, Elvis, Michael or anyone else you want to mention. Who needs Sinatra when you can have Nat?)

OK - where were we?

Oh yeah - so I also made L&L a collection of 19 Jonatha Brooke tracks (both solo and with The Story). I'm not sure Jonatha has had any songs which would qualify as "hits" exactly - but if you haven't heard this woman's music, you need to run (don't dawdle) to Amazon and buy some now. (I am willing to provide recommendations at no charge.) We were listening to some of my personal collections during our drive Monday and it struck me how many times I have included Jonatha's music. I also recalled Larry expressing interest in her music at some previous Music Night gatherings; he may have even borrowed a CD or two. Anyway, I decided he needed to possess more of Jonatha's music as well.

[Dear Jonatha: In penance for giving some of your music away, I promise to buy another copy of "The Works" and give that as a gift as well. Love, Jim Styro]

Another digression: Jim Styro's Top Five Jonatha Brooke songs
[I can believe I'm doing this to myself again. So hard...]

1. The Angel In The House (The Story) - This is the first track that really got my attention. Such a bittersweet lyric - and Jonatha's vocal range is glorious.
2. Where Were You? - The word that comes to mind again is "swagger". On her first solo album, Jonatha rocks out with impunity. I particularly love the homage to "Here Comes The Sun" that closes this number.
3. Because I Told You So - What this lady can do with just her voice and a guitar is amazing. A wonderful lyric of devotion - a personal favorite.
4. Linger - Great, ringing guitars. When the chorus kicks in, who can resist punching the accelerator? "Here I go-oh-woh-woh-woh-woh-woh..."
5. No Net Below - Few artists are brave enough to be heard so up close and personal. This track is recorded so that you can hear every breath, like she's whispering the song into your ear. In the dictionary, the word "intimate" refers back to this record.

Damn - it's getting hard to remember what I was going to write about when I started this.
Oh, I remember...

So we're listening to a Jonatha Brooke song ("No Net Below" actually) on the way to Petoskey today and Snoplum says:

"I think it would be great if Jonatha Brooke covered a Steve Ward song. What's that "river" song I like?"

"Well, there's a few of them: do you mean Flow (river flow) - or The River Leads Me Home - or Down By..."

"That one. River Leads Me Home."

"I think she should cover Kid Yourself. It's probably his most Jonatha-like song. Or, if she wants to do a ballad, I would suggest Still Life"

"Well, I think they should do a duet on The River Leads Me Home."


"They should work together on a record. Jonatha has her own label. She can hire whoever she wants to work on her records..."

"OK - but...they seem like very different types of artists to me - in so far as you can make judgements about what a person may be like based on their art. Steve Ward is...a disillusioned optimist - and Jonatha is an optimistic cynic."

"Oh - that's a post!"

"What's a post"

"What you just said about Steve Ward and Jonatha Brooke."

"I thought it was more something I might put in a Random Tuesday Thoughts thing - not a whole post just for that."

"No - you have to write a post with that and we'll send copies of it to Steve Ward and Jonatha Brooke so that they can start working together. And I will be responsible for having brought together two musical geniuses."

"You'll be responsible? Does that mean you're writing the post?"

"No - you're writing it. I'll be...distributing it."

[Think of the great scene in Schindler's List where Neeson (as Schindler) meets Ben Kingsley (as the accountant Stern): "Not the work, not the work...the PRESENTATION."]

Last digression: Jim Styro's Top Five Steve Ward tracks

1. Careful (Can't Fall Again) [Cherry Twister] - So hard to pick only one Cherry Twister number. But I love the slide guitar on this number (it reminds me so much of Steely Dan's Pearl of the Quarter) and the harmonies are sublime. This is the softer side of Steve.
2. I Missed The Mark - The opening track of Steve's first solo album, Opening Night. From the joyous organ strains that open the song to the closing guitar lick, this is no rookie music-making. This is alternative pop from a man who knows how to write, how to play, how to sing, how to produce a record. How can this guy not be both rich and famous?!?!?!?!
3. Still Life - A near perfect pop song. I won't even attempt to describe its pristine beauty. Go buy "Opening Night"!
4. The Death of Star - Oh and do you like psychedelic pop too? Well the Doctor is in! The arrangement to this song is mind-blowing; like Art Garfunkel doing Strawberry Fields Forever.
5. Kid Yourself - The closing song on Steve's second (and last, so far - dammit) album, See and Be Seen. "Someone's got a secret to tell..." - indeed; and the secret is: Steve Ward is a pop music genius.

OK - so to sum up:
1. Go buy all of Steve Ward's albums (quit whining - there's only three. You'll thank me later.)2. Go buy any three Jonatha Brooke albums
3. If you already know about Steve and/or Jonatha - and you have any powerful friends that can bring these to talents together, then lend your voice to mine. Send emails, make phone calls, alert your Senator, Congressman, Obama!

We need them to make beautiful music together.

Take care.

PS: I had to finish off this post in the parking lot of the Petoskey Burger King where I was barely able to steal their free Internet access. So please excuse any typos, bad grammar, stupid ideas, etc.

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