Take Five: The Thriller Edition

1. A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friend Alison and she put on an album by a gentleman named John Wesley Harding. I knew of the Bob Dylan album, but not so much of this artist who takes his moniker from that release.

From pretty much the first song, I was hooked. I started throwing out comparisons to Nick Lowe, Squeeze and Elvis Costello. As soon as I got home, I ordered the album — “The Name Above the Title” — for myself. Just now, I discovered that he did a song from the “High Fidelity” soundtrack that I loved, “I’m Wrong About Everything.”

Obviously, a back catalog purchase is in order. Conveniently, he is playing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on July 8, and if I win free tickets via a drawing run by johnwesleyharding.com, I may just go. Or I may go either way.

I find that lately, I am pursuing a lot of artists I missed the first time around — like John Wesley Harding — as well as listening to a lot of classics I have not paid due attention to over the years. In the case of the former, I have a great way of catching up on their back catalogs. Yourmusic.com is essentially the 21st century residue of the Columbia Houses and BMGs of old (Remember the stickers you would tear off and paste onto the card? I would use those to decorate my notebooks.) While I may not be able to find the new Q Tip or White Rabbits album there, I can find a lot of older stuff. It works sort of like Netflix, where you set up a queue and each month, for $6.99, you get a new album. In the next couple of months, I should be receiving discs by Joe Jackson, the Jam, Squeeze and Split Enz (I love me some Crowded House and Neil Finn, so why not Split Enz?)

As for what I already own and am rediscovering, the other day I dug out Michael Penn’s “March” and my Roxy Music greatest hits disc. Also in the pile on top of my stereo are a greatest hits album by the Pretenders, Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” and Suzanne Vega’s “Solitude Standing.” I’ve been on a Fleetwood Mac kick for several months and have started picking up the back catalog. (The TWIT sale a while back helped me snag “Rumours” and “Tusk.”) And Paul Simon’s “The Rhythm of the Saints” has pretty much has lodged itself into my five-disc changer.

To tell you the truth, I am having a lot more fun rediscovering these older artists than I am with a lot of the new stuff I’m hearing nowadays. Not that the new stuff isn’t pretty great — but I’m just realizing I missed out on some awesome musicians, and the artists I liked alright but never dove deeper into until recently (like Michael Penn and Paul Simon) are proving to be really rewarding listens that have held up well over time. It’s like having a whole new music collection.

2. My friend Joey pointed me to this piece of excellent news: a bunch of rock luminaries are contributing to a tribute album to Mark Mulcahy, leader of the forgotten janglers Miracle Legion (a/k/a the “Adventures of Pete and Pete” house band Polaris), one of the best unknown bands of the 1980s/1990s. Mulcahy’s wife died last year, so proceeds from the album — featuring covers of Miracle Legion and solo Mulcahy tracks by no brighter stars than Michael Stipe, the National, Thom Yorke, Juliana Hatfield, Dinosaur Jr., Frank Black and more — will go to help him raise their three-year-old twin sons and continue making music.

I, like a lot of folks, discovered Miracle Legion as Polaris via “Pete and Pete,” and after I was fortunate enough to track down the Polaris “album,” I snatched up whatever I could find of the now out of print Miracle Legion catalog — “Portrait of a Damaged Family,” “Drenched” (which was a bargain bin mainstay for a while) and “Me and Mr. Ray” on cassette. I’ve also got one of Mulcahy’s solo albums, “Smilesunset.” He is an immensely talented songwriter with precise pop sensibility, and anything that enables him to keep making music, while drawing together an incredible assembly of talent to create an amazing tribute record, is A-OK in my book. The disc is due out Sept. 29, and hopefully it will expose a whole new crop of people to Mulcahy’s and Miracle Legion’s incredible work.

3. In all of my excitement about the Freedy Johnston show, I forgot about his opening act. Mike Fiore, the lead man of the local band Faces on Film, took to the tiny Armory stage with just a guitar for a delightful 45-minute set. He has one of the most amazing voices I’ve heard in a Boston-area venue, resonant, solid and sweet. His songs were great — tender and haunting and passionately performed — and he seemed unfazed by the size of the audience. And he gets points for politeness.

“Thanks for being attentive,” he said. “In all seriousness. I’m from around the corner, so it’s like being nice to someone from your own block.”

4. I’ve been eBaying a lot of stuff lately, trying to scrounge up some extra cash. Scanning my CD collection, I took note of my three Bright Eyes discs. I bought them in 2000, before Bright Eyes really became big and maybe when he was a bit more, let us say, unstable. A lot of the songs are raw, angsty, unabashed declarations of pain and loss. Perfect for the angsty 21-year-old I was back then! Surely, I thought, I can sell these now and cash in on his fame from people looking to snag his back catalog.

In the cases of “Letting Off the Happiness” and “A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997,” I feel content ripping a song or two then selling the disc. But as I listened to “Fevers and Mirrors,” which includes songs with gothy titles like “The Calendar Hung Itself” and “A Spindle, a Darkness, a Fever, a Necklace,” I realized… this is actually pretty good. The songs are top quality. I can see echoes of his current work in these nine-year old songs — the folkiness, the Americana tendencies — even though the subject matter is much darker and overwrought. Who’da thunk? I’m not about to rush out and buy Bright Eyes’ latest albums, because it doesn’t really grab me. But these older, more raw and intriguing seeds of his newer work — these I’m going to hold onto.

5. R.I.P. Michael Jackson. Here is a video of my husband and I dancing to “Smooth Criminal” at our wedding in 2004.

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6 responses to “Take Five: The Thriller Edition

  1. J.W. Harding just moved to Philly actually, and I believe he’s friends with the Buck/McCaughey/Minus 5 circle of musicians as well.

  2. Yeah, I believe he has a new album coming out soon, as well, and the Minus 5 perform on it.

  3. Rediscovering the classics, or even the not-so-classics, is fun, and yourmusic.com is a terrific site I need to visit more often. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Next stop on your John Wesley Harding trip is Here Comes the Groom. After that you’ll have to ask Lee who knows way more than I do.

  5. I don’t think you can go wrong with Conor Oberst. Even if his new stuff doesn’t mesh with your tastes, his old stuff is great, too.

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