Forgotten Albums: Mary Margaret O’Hara, Miss America

My wife and I are outliers when it comes to watching television. As in, we rarely have the TV on. No Netflix subscription, no Amazon Fire Stick or Roku. I received the complete Rockford Files for Christmas last year, and we’re about halfway through Season 1, for what that’s worth. We do have basic cable, but mainly because it seemed to make sense to bundle it with our internet (I’m not sure that’s the case any more).

I have the distinct sense we’ve missed out on some very good series over the years; I guess the good news is that living in the streaming era allows us to catch up sorta quickly if we ever get the bug? Via my Twitter feed, I’ve become aware of the titles of many of the possibilities. And since the Emmy Awards happened just a couple of days ago, I guess I’m learning even more about them this week. Take Schitt’s Creek, for instance. Record number of awards for a comedy–that’s pretty cool, I suppose. But while I knew the name, I’d never bothered to find out it was a Canadian series, or that it just ended, or that it starred those SCTV stalwarts of long ago, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara.

Even though I don’t know much of anything about TV these days, I do store plenty of music trivia in my noggin, and the tidbit coming to mind right now is that Mary Margaret O’Hara, Catherine’s sister, released an album in 1988. Miss America had actually been recorded four years earlier, and it took all that time for MM to win the battle with Virgin to get it out on the market. Feel certain that it came to my attention via Rolling Stone; apparently they were sufficiently impressed, and sometime in the early 90s I picked up a used copy:

(Aside: my friend Greg was adamant about not peeling the stickers off used CDs he bought–he wanted to maintain some semblance of an historical record. I think I began following suit the year he and I roomed together. Now if only I could remember whether Periscope Records was in C-U, or the Cincy area, or Lexington, or somewhere else. Another case of winning the battle but losing the war.)

I found Miss America a difficult listen the first few times I put it in the player, and it wound up falling out of favor pretty quickly. In the last couple of years, though, I’ve sought out a song or two from it on YouTube, and am finally beginning to embrace O’Hara’s exquisite, tortured voice. Let’s wander around some of its better tracks.

“Year in Song” is track 2, and one of the more challenging cuts. “Joy is the aim,” O’Hara notes, and proceeds to make it clear that’s not on the horizon. Nonetheless, the title has stayed with me over the years, and was incorporated into the title of one of my earlier posts.

Next up is “Body’s in Trouble,” which as this Pitchfork review from a couple of years ago notes, straddles the divide between stuff like “Year in Song” and the stunningly beautiful songs here. O’Hara isn’t so much singing as she is inhabiting her work. It’ll be a while before I’ll think of the phrase “Who do you talk to” in a way different from how it’s presented here. We also get to witness her approach to the craft in the video.

Probably my favorite right now is “Anew Day,” the closest thing to a potential pop hit on Miss America. In contrast to just about everything else on here, it’s jaunty and optimistic. We also get to listen in as O’Hara creates new language.

No overview of Miss America would be complete, though, without showcasing how breathtakingly beautiful O’Hara can sing. I’ll give you two examples: “Help Me Lift You Up,” and the phenomenal closer, “You Will Be Loved Again.” (But don’t overlook “Dear Darling.”)

Mary Margaret went down a completely different path in the arts from her more famous younger sibling, and hardly recorded following this release. We’re fortunate to have Miss America, though, and I plan on keeping it in occasional circulation now.

Forgotten Albums: The Connells, Ring

When I learned I was moving back to Kentucky from Illinois to start the small-college academic life, a top priority was figuring out where to live. Lexington had many more options for apartment living, so it made sense to concentrate my efforts there. I wound up choosing a complex called Raintree, on the southeastern side of town. Not for the indoor pool, which I never used, but for its fairly easy access to the interstate, and hence work: turn left at a stop light, go two-point-five miles until you hit I-75 North, whereupon after another fifteen minutes you’ve reached Georgetown. I lived in apartment #2602 for not quite a year-and-a-half.

There was a strip mall within easy walking distance of Raintree. Among its offerings was a TCBY, a couple of restaurants (locally-owned Cajun and Italian), a gaming store, and an independent CD shop. I imagine I was in the last of these around twice a week, scoping out both new releases and the used bins. Their prices were only okay–I got more stuff at a couple other places in town–but you couldn’t beat the convenience factor.

In those final months at the apartment, maybe one mid-fall, late Friday afternoon on my way home, I swung by this store (alas, the name’s long forgotten to me now) and picked up Ring, the new album from Raleigh’s Connells. I’d known of the band for a few years by that point, though I wouldn’t be shocked if in-store play factored in my decision to buy it.

I wouldn’t say that Ring ever slotted in as one of my go-to CDs, with repeated listens over several weeks. It does, however, possess a top-drawer first four songs, along with a few other charmers among its thirteen cuts. Let’s take a dip into it.

Leading off was the Connells’ third and final Modern Rock Tracks top 10 song, “Slackjawed.” This would definitely have caught my attention if they played it over the store’s system. Could have been a pop hit in another universe…

Next is “Carry My Picture.” One of a couple of songs here about a romantic relationship gone sideways in one form or another. Nice, driving track.

“’74-’75” was a top 10 hit all over Europe in 1995. I heard it on the radio occasionally here, probably on WRFL, but it somehow never dented a chart in the U.S. “I was your sorry ever after”–this is the one that truly never left my head.

I came across the song’s video a few years ago and was fascinated by the then (as of 1993)-and-now shots of sixteen members of the Class of ’75 from Broughton HS in Raleigh. It was only in writing this up that I learned the director updated the clip in 2015 for their 40th reunion. As you’ll see, one of the 16 had passed in the intervening years. It’s almost as affecting as the song.

“Doin’ You” wraps up Ring‘s incredible start. It’s got quite the load of vitriol, but I way dig it.

We’ll wrap with a couple of the songs from later in the disk. “New Boy” was the B-side to “’74-’75.”

And the closer, “Running Mary,” lopes along nicely, throwing in a time signature wrinkle here and there.

After Ring, things got a little tougher commercially for the Connells (not that success really ever found them). Three more albums followed, the last in 2001. There are hints on their Wikipedia page that there may be another one forthcoming in the near future.

Forgotten Albums: Jane Siberry, No Borders Here

Over the past four weeks I participated in a class called Course Design Institute, offered via Spalding University and under the auspices of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU, for short). Roughly forty colleagues from across the state, including ten or so from my institution, learned alongside me about best practices in setting up online courses, you know, just in case. It was very much a worthwhile endeavor; our instructor shared many valuable insights and resources, and I’m already putting a good bit of it into practice as I prepare for the coming school year. Even though current plans call for as much face-to-face interaction as possible, I’m expecting to be doing plenty of classroom-flipping in most of my courses.

Our instructor’s first name–which I’ll reveal down the way–isn’t all that common, and is one that always makes me think of a song on a fine but obscure album from 1984, Jane Siberry’s No Borders Here. I’ve written some about Siberry before, featuring tracks from her 1988 disk The Walking a couple of years ago. No Borders Here was her second album, the one that began to get her noticed in her native Canada. It’s plenty arty–there’s a reason why she was promoted as being in the vein of Kate Bush–with lots of word play and abundant shifts in time signature, tempo, and rhythm. The production is competent but not as lavish as she would receive on future recordings. One of my bridge-playing friends at Illinois put me on to No Borders Here; since I already knew about The Walking, that wasn’t a hard sell, and it quickly became the album of Siberry’s I most consistently enjoy. Here are a few of the choicest cuts (though one of my faves isn’t available on its own on YouTube).

The album kicks off with “The Waitress.” You get a good idea of what you’re in for from the get-go. Most memorable line: “I’d probably be famous now if I wasn’t such a good waitress.”

Next is “I Muse Aloud,” whose narrator takes the odd position that she “fill(s) (her boyfriend) up with so much love” that he has no option but to fall for the girls he meets while out and about.

After treats like “Dancing Class” (about a woman who takes lessons for many years) and “Extra Executives” (in which a salesman’s behavior gets compared to that of a grouper fish), we get “Symmetry (The Way Things Have To Be).” Just remember: “You can’t chop down the symmetry.” The poster of the video on YouTube indicates these scenes come from Dames, a 1934 flick choreographed by Busby Berkeley.

And our last feature is my favorite, a track that reached #68 on the Canadian charts. “Mimi on the Beach” is also the song that’s been on my mind this past month as I’ve gone through my class. Great lines: “I stand and scan on this strand of sand;” “She’s checking out her arms and legs/In case her casing’s getting burned.”

Many thanks to Prof. O’Malley for her feedback and help–I hope I can translate the experience into good things for my students.

You can find a link to the entire album here. Twenty-seven minutes in is “Follow Me,” a real charmer that I wish I could have more easily shared.

Forgotten Albums: Aimee Mann, Whatever

Last week I saw that we’d reached the twentieth anniversary of the release of one of my all-time favorite albums, Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2. Martha was close to the four-months-point of her pregnancy with Ben when I picked it up; I know I had it already on play in the car when we went to a shower thrown by her soon-to-be former colleagues at Midway early that summer. Songs such as “Red Vines,” “Satellite,” “Ghost World,” and (especially) “Calling It Quits” are all brilliant–I recommend going out and finding it if it’s not familiar.

But that’s not my agenda today. Instead, I’m taking a closer look at Mann’s first solo record, Whatever. It came out in May of 1993, twenty-seven years ago this week, and more than four years after ‘Til Tuesday’s third and final album, Everything’s Different Now. Whatever is very close to Bachelor‘s equal, and signaled that the growth and potential Aimee showed in songs like “Coming Up Close” and “Rip in Heaven” (from ‘TT’s second and third albums, respectively) had fully matured/been realized. Even without much commercial success, Mann was here to stay. Here are a half-dozen cuts from it.

The opening track and lead single, “I Should Have Known,” had a more muscular sound than anything Mann had done before, and could be considered an announcement of her arrival. Somehow I’d never seen this video before.

The fourth track, “Could’ve Been Anyone,” is a strong contender for my Mann Top 10. I can’t say now if I put the line from the bridge, “It isn’t description so much as disguise” on the label for one of the tapes I made for James, but it’s perhaps the standout lyric on the whole album.

Mann is a master of the rhyming triple. She’d already begun the practice while still in ‘Til Tuesday, but it flourished over the course of her solo career. This song, about what the narrator believes is a premature end to a promising relationship, treats us to “departed/outsmarted/started” in the chorus.

I swear I didn’t choose to write this album up because Mann included a song called “Mr. Harris.” However, I’ve always found this tune, about the desire for a June-October relationship, deeply moving. The oboe/brass interplay in the musical interlude doesn’t hurt, either.

Another highlight is “I’ve Had It,” a poignant exploration of the frustrations and inevitable disappointments of being in the music biz.

The album wraps up with the rollicking “Way Back When,” another song I know I put on a tape somewhere along the way. I love to sing along. Also: many more triples!

I’ve skipped over several good ones: “Fifty Years After the Fair,” “Fourth of July,” and “I Could Hurt You Now,” among others. It’s a delight from start to finish. As I said in one of my earliest posts, I would have been surprised if you’d told me in 1985 (as much as I liked “Voices Carry”) that Mann would be the one artist from the 80s whose work I tracked consistently over the following thirty years. Without Whatever, that might not have happened.

Forgotten Albums: Steve Forbert, Streets of This Town

Like my college, the church I attend has gone the Zoom route for gathering dispersed people for face-to-face conversations. Our minister isn’t doing live services–he’s working with congregants to piece together abbreviated services that are recorded in advance–but today a couple of the adult Sunday School classes got together over Zoom for a while. It’s good to see people’s faces and hear their voices after weeks away from one another (the same holds true for my students–I’m not having class per se online, just Q & A sessions at our regularly scheduled meeting times–I may be a little surprised at how much of a lift I’m getting from interacting with them).

But this morning, rather than watch the pre-recorded service with Martha, I was in the basement gathering thoughts about my next set of Calculus II notes and videos (if you’ve been wondering what my voice sounds like, my YouTube handle is cayleytable–there’s some really enthralling calculus content there, letmetellya) and attending the church of Steve Forbert, specifically his 1988 album Streets of This Town. A couple of songs from it have been knocking around my head as of late, resonating with how I’m feeling about the current times. Streets was a comeback album of sorts, Forbert’s first release in several years. It didn’t sell all that much, but the little buzz it generated reached my eyes or ears; I got it through Columbia House as I was building my nascent CD collection.

Here are a few selections.

Track 3 is “I Blinked Once.” So much feels impermanent right now.

My two favorite tracks are the ones that would have been side-enders had I bought it on vinyl. “As We Live and Breathe” is truly uplifting to listen to, and it offers me some small measure of hope today.

“Hope, Faith, and Love” is another cut that reminds me to look for the good out there.

It was the rocker “Wait a Little Longer” that flitted through my brain this morning and led to this post today.

The CD ends with the quiet “Search Your Heart.” “Don’t take gloom for granted/And don’t bridge time to time/And if you search your heart/You’ll ease your mind.”

So ended the sermon. I’ll try to take what I can from it and go forth to be as good a math professor and person as I can be in the coming weeks.

Forgotten Albums: Maria McKee, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved

To date, the Forgotten Albums series has been about lifting up recordings I’ve listened to time and again over the years that I believe are under-appreciated. This entry’s different, in that I’m the one who was doing the forgetting.

After I wrote up a little about Dusty Springfield a couple of weeks ago, I sought out her highly-regarded Dusty in Memphis LP on YouTube. It’s amazingly good, definitely worthy of purchase. When its last song came on, I thought, “I know I’ve heard this somewhere else before,” though I couldn’t immediately place it…

One quick internet search later, I was reaching for a CD on a shelf in my basement, one that to my complete discredit hadn’t graced a player for maybe a quarter-century: Maria McKee’s second solo release, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved. I popped it in and immediately forwarded to track six (which I hadn’t realized was written by King/Goffin). Yes, this is what I was thinking of:

After the song finished, I let the rest of the album play out. Two thoughts dominated: 1) how had this never gotten into serious rotation? and 2) this sure sounds like a lost Jayhawks album in places.

I can’t defend myself regarding the first, but the second came with good reason: Gary Louris and Mark Olson, then the Jayhawks’ co-leaders, are part of McKee’s backup band this go-round, and also contributed one of the songs. The album was produced by George Drakoulias, who’d vaulted into fame of sorts by working with the Black Crowes a few years earlier. Drakoulias also produced my two favorite Jayhawks albums, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, which bracket You Gotta Sin in time.

I got the McKee album very soon after it was released in the summer of 1993. Alas, it’d been put to pasture by the time those Jayhawks releases were added to my collection a couple of years later; I guess it was already too late to make the connection. That’s true no longer, though–I’ve played most of the songs from You Gotta Sin several times over the last week, so now I’m here to share a few highlights.

Leading off is the single that didn’t go anywhere, “I’m Gonna Soothe You.” That was a collective mistake on all our parts.

“My Girlhood Among the Outlaws” wouldn’t have been out of place on Hollywood Town Hall–it’s got some signature Louris licks–had they allowed McKee to take over the mic for one song.

The album was also an excuse to reunite with Marvin Etzioni and Don Heffington, two guys from the first iteration of Lone Justice (Etzioni has co-writing credit on three songs here). “Only Once” almost feels like an outtake from Lone Justice.

McKee also covers a couple of Van Morrison tunes: “My Lonely Sad Eyes,” from his days in Them, and Astral Weeks‘s “The Way Young Lovers Do.” The latter simply swirls around you.

In summary, mea culpa. I suppose now it’s time to seek out the albums in McKee’s catalog I’ve missed over the years…

Forgotten Albums: Marti Jones, Match Game

I first encountered Marti Jones toward the end of 88, when her third album Used Guitars popped up at Record Service. I’d guess a Rolling Stone blurb or review pushed me over the edge to purchase it. It’s a nice record, but it’s her second release, 86’s Match Game, getting the microscope today.

I scooped up my copy of Match Game from a cut-out bin in 90 or 91, one time when Greg and I were out dumpster diving. It’s got 12 tracks; as with all her other disks, production, along with plenty of guitar and background vocal work, is being handled by eventual husband Don Dixon. It’s become the album of hers I’ve played most often and like the best.

At this stage, Jones was almost strictly a singer, as opposed to singer/songwriter. She’d increasingly contribute her own material on subsequent albums, but here, we’re pretty much relying on Marti and Don to choose tunes that suit her lovely, almost-smoky alto (she has co-writing credit on just one track). It’s been great fun checking out original and/or alternative takes of the songs on Match Game. Jones and Dixon usually don’t give us radically different arrangements, but they’re invariably tastefully done. I’m excited to share my discoveries with you today–let’s get it rolling.

The lead-off track was written by Reed Nielsen, of one-hit wonder Nielsen/Pearson band fame. When I first heard Marti sing “We’re Doing Alright,” soon after I bought the disk, it felt familiar. Turns out there were at least two other versions recorded around the same time as hers, by Van Stephenson and Kenny Rogers, but I don’t know I would have heard them in 86-87 (the Stephenson was a non-charting single, so who knows). By the way, Darlene Love is doing backup here (well-known musical folk making appearances turns out to be a recurring theme).

Next up it’s a little something from Dwight Twilley. As best as I can tell, Twilley didn’t record “Chance of a Lifetime” himself until his 2004 release 47 Moons. This is one of six tracks on the album that has Mitch Easter contributing on guitars.

This might be the best piece on the whole disk. “Just a Memory” was written by Elvis Costello–it was originally the B-side to a UK single from Get Happy!! And look who’s contributing in addition to Jones and Dixon: Marshall and Robert Crenshaw, T-Bone Burnett, Paul Carrack, and Anne Richmond Boston. Absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of Crenshaw, here’s a cover of the lead single from Field Day. While I can’t say it’s an improvement, Jones does “Whenever You’re On My Mind” justice.

Jones and Dixon really knew how to dig around and root out quality songs. “It’s Too Late” is a cover from the well-regarded 79 eponymous comeback LP by Britain’s The Searchers. Wasn’t familiar with it ’til now, but I just went and placed an order for the CD that couples it with another album they recorded for Sire the following year. We’ve got the Crenshaws again here, and Richard Barone of The Bongos provides some backup vox. One of my faves on the disk.

Jones ends with what initially feels like an odd choice: “Soul Love,” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. She really smooths out Bowie’s edgy vocals, though, and makes it her own.

Alas, Jones never did break through. She’s done just a little recording since the mid-90s, and has mainly focused on her painting.

One last note: I skipped over a favorite track from Match Game today, one that appeared on a mix tape I made in 91. Expect a write-up of that cassette in the not-terribly-distant future.

(This post first went up just before intended, so if you’re an email follower, you received a not-quite-finished version. Apologies.)

Forgotten Albums: The Reivers, End of the Day

The Reivers have received mention a couple of times already in this space, due to appearances on a couple of mix tapes I’ve reviewed. The first detailed how I came to learn about them and the subsequent quest for their back catalog on CD; the second featured one of the songs on today’s Forgotten Album, their 89 release, End of the Day.

The band came out of the Austin music scene of the mid-80s. Their first album, 85’s Translate Slowly, was released under their original moniker, Zeitgeist. Threat of legal action by another music group with that name led them to re-christen themselves as the Reivers. Translate Slowly impressed enough for them to get a major-label deal from Capitol, and the label put Don Dixon behind the board on 87’s Saturday. It’s a fantastic album; I’ll probably write about it someday.

Unfortunately, Saturday didn’t sell all that much. While I suspect there some pressure to produce some hits on the followup, lead guitarist and chief songwriter John Croslin was allowed to serve as co-producer. End of the Day is every bit as good as Saturday, but it stiffed in stores, too. They got dropped by Capitol and the albums went out of print quickly. The Reivers landed at DB Records, in Atlanta, and recorded one more album, Pop Beloved, in 91. It’s another awesome record–more on it another day, too–but the Reivers called it quits not long after it came out.

Today, it’s a quick tour of five of End of the Day‘s tracks. Not all of the twelve are available on YouTube, and several of those that can be found come from a video shot at one of their shows, probably shortly after Pop Beloved came out. I’m limiting myself to linking to just one of them. We start with a not especially high-fidelity capture of the album’s opener, “It’s About Time,” but it’s what I’ve got to offer.

Next, track 2, the ultra-charming “Star Telegram,” which was on the tape I wrote up back in May.

Here’s a surprise. “Lazy Afternoon” originally appeared in the 1954 Broadway musical The Golden Apple. It’s been sung by, among others, Kaye Ballard, Shirley Horn, Helen Merrill, Regina Belle, and–perhaps most notably–Barbra Streisand. The band, featuring guitarist Kim Longacre on vocals, gives it anything but the typically languid treatment, and it totally works. Crank it.

“Almost Home” was covered by Hootie and the Blowfish on their 2000 release Scattered, Smothered, and Covered. (The album also features a cut from Translate Slowly.) I can definitely envision Darius Rucker and company taking this one on.

The album’s final track is one of its best, the title song. “End of the Day” made an appearance on another of my mid-90s mix tapes. If you watch the video, you’ll see the picture below change to one of the band taken when they reunited briefly six years ago.

Lots of bands wind up not being viable commercially, but Croslin, Longacre, bassist/violinist Cindy Toth, and drummer Garrett Williams sure recorded a lot of tunes I really appreciate.

Forgotten Albums: Texas, Southside

By the end of the 80s, the easiest way for a new(-ish) act to grab my attention–and my dollars–was for it to feature a female vocalist. I’m repeating myself, but at this point on the solo side I was into Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Toni Childs, Marti Jones, Sinéad O’Connor, Basia, and Jane Siberry, among others (looks like I need to do a Marti write-up someday!). Women-led groups may have been a little sparser in my collection (10,000 ManiacsLone Justice, Cocteau Twins, and ’til Tuesday were there, but it was still a while before fave shoegaze acts like Lush and My Bloody Valentine appeared on the radar). Here’s another that popped up just before the 90s hit.

Somewhere around the time fall classes began again in Illinois I started seeing a video supporting a fivefour-some that featured Sharleen Spiteri, a guitar-slinging 21-year-old brunette with a powerful alto. “I Don’t Want a Lover” doesn’t exactly strike me as late 80s VH-1 fare now, though odds are that’s where I encountered it.  It wasn’t long before I secured a CD copy of Southside, the debut disk from the Glasgow-based Texas and stuck it on a cassette for trips in the car.

“I Don’t Want a Lover” went Top 10 in England and reached #77 in their only US Hot 100 appearance (it debuted on the 9/9/89 chart). I’m bummed that the video I saw thirty years ago isn’t available on YouTube, even if it is just a performance clip. Still the best song on the disk.

 

The next two selections follow a similar formula: two rounds of verse/chorus, solo, bridge, return to the chorus to the fade-out. “Everyday Now” and “Thrill Has Gone” were the third and second UK singles, respectively. Nice to see a real video for “Thrill Has Gone,” which had just the right amount of country vibe for me back then.

 

 

My second favorite track then was and probably still is “Fool for Love.” Our narrator’s letting her former lover know of his new status, and maybe the reasons why.

 

They chose the right song for the closer. “Future Is Promises” is a slower, more somber piece about trying to pry away a girlfriend’s boyfriend. The bridge expresses equivocation, though: “Take the chance and make the move/But don’t think that I will approve/For once I’ve finally realized/Being with her wasted your life.”

 

Southside is one of the CDs I moved over to my office several years ago in a spasm of reorganization, right around the time I brought a bunch of disks home from my parents’ house after cleaning it out. I don’t listen to it all that often anymore, but still think it’s a solid offering. Over the next four or so years, I picked Texas’s follow-up albums Mothers Heaven and Rick’s Road; neither wound up appealing the way Southside did.

And I think that was pretty much it for Texas on this side of the pond. Over in Britain, however, Spiteri and company became stars with their next two releases, White on Blonde (97) and The Hush (99). Both went to #1 there, each spawning multiple Top 10 singles. I’ve got a feeling I know what I’m going to be checking out this afternoon.

Forgotten Albums: Marshall Crenshaw, Good Evening

Late June of 89 found me back in Kentucky for several days. I had no teaching or class duties that summer, so there’s little doubt I would have headed home to see Dad for his birthday on the 25th, a Sunday. By the end of the following week, I was back on the road, but before returning to IL, I made a two-night stop in Louisville to see various friends.

Mark H and Lana had driven over from St. Louis for the weekend so that Lana could visit with family in the area; Mark broke away from that to hang out with me for a couple of days. Along the way, we met up with two of my long-time pen pals.  Becky still lived in town, in between her junior and senior years of college, so we got together with her one evening. The next day, we were with Kristine and her husband—by this point she was in vet school, spending the summer in Louisville doing training at a clinic. The four of us spent a muggy afternoon at Churchill Downs, where the highlight of my limited horse-betting career occurred. One race had a small field, five or six horses, one of which was a prohibitive favorite. Mark and I quickly calculated that if we bet on each of the other horses to win, we’d make okay money so long as any of those non-favorites crossed the line first. Needless to say, our gambit paid off—we’d have done better if we’d been disciplined enough not to make a couple of side bets, though.

The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at a record store, of course; it was that weekend that I learned Marshall Crenshaw’s fifth album, Good Evening, had hit the stores.  Mark always carried his boom box with him, so I got to listen to it in our hotel room the night I bought it.

I noticed two things right away. First, the title—was he telling fans this was the last record he was doing for Warner Bros? (It was, as it turned out.) Second, Crenshaw had a hand in writing a much lower percentage of the material on Good Evening (only 50%) than any other of his records. That also spoke to me of an unsettled situation with the suits—was the record company pushing that on him in hopes of spurring sales?

The production, from David Kershenbaum and Paul McKenna, is plenty slick, but I’ve wound up enjoying most of the songs on this album over the years. It’s time to take a listen to a few.

The opening track, “You Should’ve Been There,” got things off to a good start. It’s one of two songs on Good Evening that Crenshaw co-wrote with Leroy Preston, formerly of Asleep at the Wheel. And it’s got Wisconsin’s BoDeans doing backup vocals.

 

Crenshaw tended to have excellent taste in what he chose from other songwriters. Here’s “Valerie,” a fun Richard Thompson tune.

 

A  couple tracks later, we get some John Hiatt: “Someplace Where Love Won’t Find Me.”

 

On balance, it wasn’t a bad call to use outside material, as two of Marshall’s own contributions are my least favorite songs on the disk. However, he did write the very good “On the Run,” and he made a good call in playing it on Letterman (though I kinda doubt it happened in 91, since he released Life’s Too Short that year).

 

Whoop! Whoop! Danger, Will Harris, danger! We have a Diane Warren sighting! What did I say about good taste in choosing others’ songs? Here’s the most prominent signal of record label involvement on this project; I wonder if there were expectations of releasing it as a single. Actually, I think Marshall does a fine job with “Some Hearts”—certainly a hundred times better than Carrie Underwood did when she made it the title song of her first album.

It feels like many of my posts right now are circling around just a few artists. It’d be remiss of me not to mention that Syd Straw is one of the two female backup singers here.

 

Good Evening ends with my favorite, a cover of Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance.” Just a great, great tune, and Crenshaw does it complete justice. Twenty years later, it was fun to hear the original come on at the end of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. And somehow it took me all these years to learn that Phil Seymour has a cool version of it as well.

 

All told, Good Evening was not Crenshaw’s best, but there’s plenty worth hearing every so often.