(For an explanation, click HERE.)
1) "All to Myself," off The Philosopher Kings by The Philosopher Kings
My unplanned, hardcore tryst with the Canadian music scene rears its head again this week in the first shuffle-cut, a song from Canada's own Philosopher Kings. This album - their first - is also their best. Truly eclectic, and truly accomplished, the tracks on this album weave through R&B, rock, pop and honest-to-God jazz (I love good jazz, automatically making me older and more boring than you are), blending these divergent genres together in a way that feels smoothly cool and timeless more than a decade after its release. "All to Myself" is a perfect example of this - combining elastic upright bass and jazz-inflected piano riffs with a lounge-y, urbane crooning that's part Sinatra, part Maxwell, and all-good. You'll find a shiver-inducing cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" here, as well as one of the sparest, most affecting acoustic-guitar-accompanied ballads I've ever heard in "Ain't No Woman Around."
Subsequent releases found the Kings moving further away from the melting pot excitement they conjure here, and deeper into streamlined pop/soul, resulting (for this listener) in a less rewarding, less overall-interesting sound. But The Philosopher Kings remains a great, completely underappreciated album (at least here in the States - I understand the group is quite popular and well known in their native country), and one you ought to consider buying.
2) "Architecture," off Armistice by MuteMath
MuteMath, otherwise known as my brother-in-law's favorite band, pulls off futurist electro-rock very, very well. If you've ever loved Depeche Mode you'll love MuteMath. I don't, as a general rule, adore much electronic music. Much of it comes across to my ears as precise and "perfect" to an extreme that's deadening, or even boring, but MuteMatch cranks out electro-influenced tunes that still vibrate with emotion and humanity.
3) "Hey Jealousy," off New Miserable Experience by the Gin Blossoms
There are an awful lot of sad stories in Rock n' Roll. For my money, one of the very saddest stories belongs to Doug Hopkins. Hopkins was the guitarist and arguable lead-songwriter for the Gin Blossoms, an at-the-time up-and-coming Arizona band. The songs he wrote for the band, including "Hey Jealousy" and "Found out about you," were the songs that catapulted the band to sudden fame and fortune. Hopkins was also, by all reports, a full-on alcoholic, barely able to stand during the recording sessions for New Miserable Experience. Gin Blossoms' label gave the band an ultimatum: lose Hopkins, or we lose you.
And that is how an alcoholic, chronically-depressed, very gifted guitar player and pop melody writer found himself on the outside looking in as his former band mates and friends went on to (albeit, non-lasting) fame and fortune thanks to Hopkins' songs. Want to know what's even worse? The band withheld money owed to Hopkins for his session work until he'd agreed to sign over half of the publishing royalties due to him on the songs he'd crafted, which meant that when New Miserable Experience became a Multi-Platinum phenomenon, Hopkins wasn't even able to fully bask in the financial reward.
None of which is to say that Hopkins was a saint, or that he didn't arguably deserve some of what was coming to him (only the people involved can weight in on that). By all accounts he was a horror-show to work with - the kind of all-too-common victim of his demons who was, so it's said, a real sweetheart and a real sonofabitch depending on the second you caught him in.
Hopkins died the year after New Miserable Experience was released of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Long live Rock n' Roll?
4) "I Got Love If You Want It," off The Excello Singles by Slim Harpo
On a lighter end-note, I love me some Blues. I've got no idea what led to my appreciation for the art form - I grew up White, arguably well-off, and in the Northeast after all - but I suspect it's the same magnetic attraction that led to The Kinks recording Harpo's song. No matter your color, "the blues ain't nothin' but a good man feelin' bad, thinkin' 'bout the woman he once was with"(to quote the wholly-unappreciated little gem of a movie, Crossroads, which manages to make Ralph Macchio semi-interesting, and which features one of the most entertaining showdown sequences I've seen - involving guitar legend Steve Vai, the devil, and a battle of musical prowess that veers from blues licks to soul to rock to classical). Harpo was an excellent harmonica player (I dabble, am fairly decent, but do not possess Harpo's naturalism or his flair for fat, open-ended note playing) and has an excellently-strange, compellingly-nasal voice. If you've never spent much time listening to the Blues, don't start here. But if you're already a fan of the genre, Harpo's one to know.
That's it for this week. What's your shuffle?