I'm listening to Jonathan Richman's eponymous album from 1989. You can hear the influence of Lou Reed in this stripped-down album, along with Jonathan's own off-kilter sense of lyricism and humor. And he is no slouch when playing guitar, either, with a style somewhere between Lou Reed and Mark Knopfler. Talking about stripped-down, and not being a slouch, Normandie Wilson released her latest album, "Until the Whole of My Heart is Yours", this past Friday, November 21, and it is wonderful!
I stumbled upon Normandie when she performed this past June during the Art Around Adams music and art walk. The first thing that attracted me to her was "the look" - a pastiche of 60s pop/jet-set cultcha. My first thought was "Wow. Is she serious about what she is doing or is this a parody?". I decided I had to hear more, and know more about this curious, accomplished artist. I purchased her album "Geography and Other Problems" which is every bit worthy of its nomination for best pop album at the 2014 San Diego Music Awards. It was recorded in several locations, from Sweden to San Diego, with an impressive roster of musicians backing her up. I began stopping by the Lafayette Hotel lobby after work when I was in town, to listen to Normandy at the piano, singing pop standards, primarily from the 60s. This is where I got to know her as a person. She is always dressed to the nines in 60s style and wigged-out, literally, not figuratively; she is quite grounded in reality once you get to know her. Normandie has a passion for 60s pop culture, and it shows not only in her attire, but in the music selections she plays and in her own writing. She is a big fan of Burt Bacharach, The Beach Boys, and The Zombies, and also Cole Porter, ELO, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, and Amy Winehouse. You can hear the influences but never anything derivative. Her style is hers and hers alone. And I do believe Nomandie is one of the hardest working and prolific artists I've encountered in San Diego. Not only that, she has perspective, and is very involved in social causes in our community when she is not writing, rehearsing, painting, dancing, or performing. She doesn't stand still for a moment! The consummate artiste.
So what about this new release? It is stripped-down; just voice and piano. It plays like a diary of relationship concerns, which reminds me of Joni Mitchell's writing, but sounds nothing like Mitchell. Modern realities are thrown into a mid-60s pop style. Her piano is informed by Bacharach but is uniquely Normandie. Dave Fleminger recorded Normandie at Rarefied Recording in North Park, San Diego. On this, Normandie plays her Boston baby grand which was shipped from West Virginia to its new home at Rarefied Recording several months ago. According to Normandie, she and Dave spent two 12-hour days recording 25 of her songs, nine of which became "Until the Whole of My Heart is Yours". Not only is the sound and feel of this very personal, the sound is right up close to you, literally putting her lyrical thoughts inside your head, as you sit at the piano. Her vocals are expressive, from delicate vulnerability to joyful declarations of love. It is difficult to listen without letting the the music affect your own emotional state. She reaches into your soul with her words, finding commonality. We've all been through the pains of bad relationships as well as the sheer joy in the blossoming of the new. Normandie is painting pictures with these songs. Pictures of relationships gone wrong as well as right; and she describes the ups and downs within a relationship as two people struggle to make it work - sometimes having to sacrifice and put in lots of effort, as well as times where things come easy and effortlessly. I love this album.
Speaking of the effortless, Normandie is surprised that she is getting so much positive response to this release, since she said it was so easy to do compared to the last full release. "Geography and Other Problems" was a much bigger production; more intricate musically involving many more players. I think the secret of the responses to "Until the Whole of My Heart is Yours" is that it is reality brought into focus. We can all identify with it. And yet it is such a personal statement it makes one feel you are spying on Normandie's private life. Not to say that Geography wasn't a set of pictures of Normandie's life and relationships; it was. But the stripped-down nature of this gives you her words without any distractions; Normandie without her wigs and exquisite appearance. This is the real deal. Her inner beauty shines through with this release. Heart touching heart. It reminds me of John Lennon's first solo work, "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band". Sometimes simplicity is required when describing the human condition.
What about the Cranberries and Mounds of Merries?
At this point, Jonathan Richman has been replaced by Flamin Groovies' "Supersnazz" in the CD player. Man, I'm a true rock 'n' roller now. Look out! Oh boy. The past week has been a busy time. I can't even remember what I did when I returned from Atlanta. While in Atlanta, I had dinner at Trader Vic's, and found that Tongo Hiti does perform there still, but not while I was in Atlanta. They were touring Europe. No other bands. I was only in Atlanta two nights. Got home after midnight Thursday morning and waited for my luggage to be delivered all day Thursday. It finally arrived at 6:10 pm. Oh, the joys of dealing with the airlines. Had a doctor's appointment after work Friday. Eight years now since beating cancer! Yes! What is scary now is that I cannot remember what I did Friday night. Saturday we took care of home things and went to Franks' for pizza. Later that night we were going to go out but decided to stay home and chill in the pub with The Doobie Brothers' early albums. All I remember is laughing, and laughing, and laughing. The music was euphorically beautiful!
Sunday we got out to Ramona's antique shops, and also did our mandatory pilgrimage to Artful Ruins in Normal Heights. Monday I had my work evaluation. I was almost embarrassed at all the accolades, but it was an affirmation that I was out more than anyone else and with more diverse assignments - and everyone seems to love me. It's so nice to hear that. Now, where's the money????
Came home to find out that there would be no indictment of Officer Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. Such a miscarriage of justice. The responses began, not just in Ferguson but all over. What Michael's parents did not want to see happen was happening. Time to get my mynde off this shit.
Tori Roze and The Hot Mess
Got the itch to hear some new music. Tori Roze was performing at Bar Pink, so after dinner Monday I headed over there. The band was supposed to start at 9 pm but didn't arrive until close to 10. I sure wish the papers would get it right with the times for these things. That's okay, though, since the drinks are cheap at Bar Pink. The band was a five-piece instead of their regular six-piece lineup, with Tori on vocals and trumpet, Jordan Morita on trombone, Johnny Alexander on guitar, Harley Magsino on bass, and Charlie Weller on drums.
The sound was hot, but not a "mess" in the negative sense. It was a mix of sounds from soulful r&b and trip hop to funky jazz. They played all originals, with a few exceptions. One exception was a trip hop version of Gershwin's "Summertime" that was truly unique. Then they took it a step further in the unique department by doing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a funky jazz style that was something to behold. All I could say was "wow.... uh, wowwww! What did I just hear? Man!"
Jordan, the trombonist, was impressive all night - doing solos on all the pieces that left a big smile on this face. The interplay with drums, bass, and guitar was tight and swingin'. Johnny got chords out of his guitar that at times sounded like a Hammond B3 organ. He was very selective in his lead work, going from slow and sparse to quick rapid-fire jazzy licks. I've never seen another guitarist like him. Tori's voice was sultry, sweet, and powerful - I mean really powerful. She reminded me of Janis Joplin in her movements and delivery, going from sweet, delicate, and quiet pleading to a burst of emotion; wailing and demanding, pulling feelings out of the depths of her soul and spewing them forth, commanding attention. When she was playing trumpet, the interaction with the trombone was playful and hot. This is a band that I had heard a lot about but that I had never heard. What an excellent surprise! They will be playing at Bar Pink every fourth Monday of the month but few other venues while they work on completing their third album. I picked up their second album, which was nominated for more than one SDMA award in 2013. Hot stuff.
The Velvet Underground
Today I found the six CD set, the 45th anniversary super deluxe edition, of the third (eponymous) album by The Velvet Underground on my doorstep. I haven't had a chance to listen yet but what a treat! I have the sets for the first two albums, each nicely done with many photos in a hard bound book. This appears to have been given the same treatment. I can never say which is my favorite Velvets album. All four studio albums are so strong. Oh wait, I guess there were five studio albums if you include "Squeeze", which was actually Doug Yule on vocals and all instruments except drums, which were played by former Deep Purple drummer, Ian Paice. Doug wrote all the music and lyrics on "Squeeze" and tried his best to imitate his mentor, Lou Reed. And now this brings us full circle, as one of Jonathan Richman's rock heroes was Lou Reed.
Supersnazz finished playing a while back. It is a short but fun album by an often overlooked great San Francisco band, Flamin Groovies. It's time to break out my new Velvet Underground set.