A special edition of Take Five this morning, because when I woke up today, there were two delightful pieces of news in my inbox:
- Freedy Johnston, one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, is playing a rare show on the East Coast. Near Boston. In Somerville. A mile from my house!!! NEXT WEDNESDAY. At an awesome new venue I’ve been meaning to check out. Good morning, indeed!
I got turned on to Freedy Johnston in high school. My friend Becca had a friend back home in Pennsylvania with whom she thought I would get along. We exchanged a couple of letters (as was popular to do back in the day), and we definitely connected. She was into music the same way I was, and as I recall, she was also interested in writing. One letter was accompanied by a cassette tape onto which she’d recorded two albums: Dave Matthews Band’s “Under the Table and Dreaming” and Freedy Johnston’s “This Perfect World.” This was around 1996, and I was actively listening to 103.5 WPLL, a pretty hip adult contemporary station that was playing some of my favorite songs of the era like Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye,” Peter Murphy’s “Scarlet Thing in You,” and the two big singles by these artists, DMB’s “Ants Marching” and Freedy’s “Bad Reputation.”
I must have played that tape a hundred or more times. I can talk about the Dave Matthews Band another time — I would go on to become a huge DMB fan in college, though I only saw them live once, and I still hold that their early stuff was pretty amazing — but the real story here is Freedy. “Bad Reputation” was the only radio hit he really had, and that’s a shame. From the perfect pop of his album “Can You Fly” to the somber, rain-slicked tones of “Blue Days, Black Nights,” Freedy runs the spectrum of longing in his songs. He’s a gifted storyteller, a craftsman when it comes to mood and melody. That album on the tape, “This Perfect World,” bundled together Westerbergian pop perfection (“Two Lovers Stop”), country twang (“Gone Like the Water”) and sparse, affecting ballads (“Cold Again”) into a timeless package. Over the years, I’ve snagged his entire discography, including his live and cover albums, and never been disappointed by a single note he’s plucked.
I am supposed to have seen Freedy Johnston already, way back in college. I had my tickets. I was seated in the venue, Cambridge’s venerable Club Passim. I even saw the opening act, local country boy Mark Erelli. But Freedy never showed. The reason? He didn’t know he had the gig, and he was still in New York. We all got refunds, and some bonus tunes by Mark Erelli, but I’ve carried that disappointment with me all these years. On Wednesday, it will finally evaporate — as long as Freedy remembers to make the trip. And as if things couldn’t get better, he’s also got his first album of new material in eight years (“Rain on the City”) coming out in October!
The sad post-script to this story is that I honestly forget the name of the girl who introduced me to Freedy. Doubly sad, a quick scan of my tape rack didn’t turn up the mix in question (and I DON’T throw stuff like that out). Alas.
- Girlyman, one of my favorite bands, announced that their new album, “Everything’s Easy,” is available for pre-order. Recorded at their home in Atlanta, the album’s got three tracks I have already heard via their outstanding live album. The pre-order price is steep ($25) but it will be well worth it, both to get the album early and to reward a band that really puts their hearts into their work.
I’m not that into the folk scene, but not due to any dislike, simply because my preferences veered in a different direction. (Back in the day, though, I was a huge Indigo Girls fan.) But a friend introduced me to Girlyman, and my love for them transcends genre. Not only are their songs consistently compelling, catchy, heartbreaking and obscenely well-crafted, with harmonies to die for, but their live show is one of the best that I’ve ever seen.
I’m not one to see a band I like everytime they come to town, but Girlyman breaks the rule for me, simply because their on-stage chemistry (and their infamous banter, much of which is captured on the live disc) makes the show doubly entertaining. Not only do you get to hear some incredible music, you get to see a comedy show. When they play in Boston, they usually take up a two-night residence in the intimate environs of, yes, Club Passim, and when I see them clustered up on that humble little stage, I always feel like I am at a dinner party with friends and not at some rock show. That, I think, is the mark of outstanding artist-audience rapport.
As the years go on, the members of Girlyman only improve their musicianship and songwriting abilities, so this new album is bound to be a treat.
OK, a couple other random items to round out the five:
- Per a suggestion from Andrew, I’m going to try — try — thinking about my desert-island top five albums. I told him that if my brain short-circuits from trying to narrow this down to five must-haves, he’ll be getting a bill. (In the meantime, Andrew has his top 100 all picked and ranked. Impressive.)
- I’ve fallen way behind on my downloading. Lots of MP3s on my desktop and lots of blog posts starred in Google Reader, but I haven’t pulled them into iTunes. I’m hoping to remedy that this weekend
- I also haven’t made much headway into the unlistened-to pile of albums on my desk, though I did give the new Eels a spin. I think it’s definitely going to be a grower — it was pleasant enough, but nothing hooked me. I also listened to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” a few times, and that was pretty great.
Hmm, those last three were about things I haven’t done or haven’t listened to. I’ll try to be more proactive the next time Take Five comes around 🙂