Apr 26 2006, 7:31

"Dammit, Blues. Don't call me a Yuppie!"

The argument started, like most arguments, over nothing. I just started listening to some new albums I snatched from Ol' Fang when he wasn't looking. Normally the old coyote's country music doesn't move me but lately I've been softening my position on Fang's choice in tunes. After all, his Van Morrison recommendation was a good one. The Boss came in while I was digging Norah Jones' kinda cool cover of Elvis' "Love Me". He snickered and said "OK Blues. You're turning into a cowboy now"

I snarled. "Well then... You're a Yuppie.

The Boss hates being called a Yuppie.

That was when he lost it. "Take a look outside, Dawg! You see any skyscrapers'? no! You see cactus! Roadrunners! Sand! Frigging saguaros! These are shorts and t-shirt I'm wearing not a suit! I am not a Young Urban Professional!

"Well you're not young, that's for sure!"

The Boss turned the color of a lobster.



OK, so sometimes I'm a little immature.

The Boss muttered something about a future ration on Kibbles and stormed out.

Baby boomers are all alike. The Boss brags about his Anthony Braxton records and raves about Silent Alarm but when no one is looking he puts on some Rolling Stones or Norah Jones. The honest truth is that some of those very popular artists are pretty good. With all these comebacks by baby boomer favorites, maybe he shouldn't be embarrassed to hunker down to some classic rock. Except they're not really playing rock any more. Dion just put out a blues album. Van Morrison donned a cowboy hat . It appears that The Boss isn't the only one going through an identity crisis.

Take the albums that Fang "loaned" Me.

Norah Jones certainly isn't a baby boomer but her sweet Rickie Lee Jones influenced voice appeals to the boomer crowd. Jones' first two albums were a huge success. They were also safe commercial efforts. My impression after hearing her CDs was "Hey Babe! You're good! Now sing something that didn't sound like it was meant to be played in an elevator!". I knew she could do it. I happened to have heard her early work with The Peter Malick Group in which a then unknown Ms Jones bellowed the heck out of a few blues songs. That was then and this is the more famous now. Recently it appears that Ms. Jones has been playing with a little group on the side called The Little Willies and recently released an self-titled album of country covers plus four original songs. The group comprised of Jones plus three lesser known compatriots; Bassist Lee Alexander, Guitarist and vocalist Richard Julian, guitarist Jim Campilongo, and drummer Dan Rieser. Was Norah Jones about to stretch out a bit from her MOR leanings?

Not really. This is a country album but only in material. It is light and fun and inconsequential like her other albums. Her backing is excellent. Norah's own keyboard work is mellow and on the mark. But it never really takes off. It's a pleasant album you can put on and wash dishes to. Not that there aren't some good tracks here. Norah Jones does a marvelously soulful cover of Elvis Presley's "Love Me". She shows off her honky-tonk stuff on "Gotta Get Drunk" and "Night Life" is confirmation of how good Ms. Jones can be when she has a great song to sink her teeth into. Richard Julian has as many vocals as Jones and is quite impressive on "Streets of Baltimore" and "Tennessee Stud" but lets face it. If it wasn't for Norah Jones this would be an average soft country band. This will probably get some commercial success especially from the yuppies who will grab it up at Starbucks but eventually it will end up in the bargain bins alongside The Traveling Wilburys and The Blue Ridge Rangers.

Now, Bruce Springsteen IS a baby boomer. He also managed to shore up a reputation as a no-compromise classic rocker. Sparse and less commercial CDs like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad has made no secret of the influence socially conscious folk artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger has on his music. His new album is We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and is a tribute to the 86 year old folk singer. It is 13 tracks of folk tunes all joyously performed by Springsteen. His backing is enthusiastic and Springsteen has not sounded this great in years. This is clearly a labor of love. So why does this CD make me a little uncomfortable? For starters, Springsteen is backed by 13 musicians. These are classic folk songs of America. Seeger needed just a guitar and his voice to express these great songs and he did it elegantly. Springsteen has an army behind him and it tends to diminish the potency of the music. Supposely this session was done "live" with no rehearsal. In fact you can hear him yell key changes over some of the songs but frankly it sounds a little forced. The arrangements are just a little too slick. But then we return to Springsteen himself and his voice is a wonder. There's no doubting the sincerity of his delivery of this music. "Mrs. McGrath". "Jesse James", and "John Henry" exhibits Springsteen as a master storyteller perhaps second only to Seeger himself. "O Mary Don't You Weep" and "Jacob's Ladder" suggest that Bruce may have a future as a gospel singer if Rock and Roll stops paying the bill. "Pay Me My Money" is perhaps the best track and it's a joy. It's hard to fault this album and I must admit each listen gets better. But I can't help wondering if this great music needs the intimacy of just voice and guitar. I also wonder why Springsteen didn't include Seeger's epic anti-war song "Big Muddy". In the current political atmosphere, the power of the song could be devastating but maybe that's exactly why it isn't here. Even "We Shall Overcome" is pretty safe nowadays, isn't it.

By the time I got to the third album I was having a bad case of covers overdose. So I was pleased to see Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris didn't have one cover on their new CD titled All The Roadrunning. In fact, all tracks are originals by Knopfler which goes a long ways in making this the best of the three albums. The strong cohesiveness of this CD belies the fact the these songs were recorded over a seven year period. On paper, Knopfler's sandpaper delivery and Harris's voice of country spring water shouldn't meld but it does. Rock and country never sounded so good together."Red Staggerwing" is pure country and rings a lot truer than the slickness of The Little Willies. Harris is exquisite on "Love and Happiness" . Dire Straits fans will love the hard driving "This is Us". A reflectful Knopfler shines on "Beyond My Wildest Dreams". Knopfler and Harris obviously enjoyed these collaborations and this is no more apparent than on the delightful "Belle Star". It isn't just that these two are immensely talented. There is real chemistry between them. These are two baby boomer idols who deserve a comeback and it is clear they never really ever slowed down. As it stands now, this is the best album of any genre yet to come out of this year.

So I left the three albums for The Boss to listen to, scratching "I'm sorry I called you a Yuppie." on the CD case. Yuppie or not, my mother told me never to bite the hand that feeds you. When he's not looking I'll bite him on the butt and blame it on the cat.


  • mjcrbt

    Good journal as always ! I've been listening The little willies and to me Norah Jones is better there them in the other albums. I believe she could be even better, someday we'll have a masterpiece from her. I'm not listening very much Bruce lately but I love several of his songs. I suppose I listen Nebraska and The River more than a hundred times. He is great !

    Apr 29 2006, 16:06
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