Mixed Bag '08 - Director's Commentary
I think at this point I've received all of the discs from the Mixed Bag exchange. I'm at various stages of listening to each, and thought now would be a good time to describe the mix I foisted upon the others.
Love's Not an Evil Thing
The title comes from a line in one of my 10 favorite songs of all time, and one of the last songs on this disc. See if you can guess which one!
1. Extraordinary Machine / Fiona Apple 3:44
We start with a great opener, a puckish, impish song that's propelled by a wonderfully coy arrangement by Jon Brion. I love how Apple sings this song - listen to the way she adds a bit of silly slyness to the second syllable of "extraORDinary," or the way she adds a bit of breathiness as she makes vocal leaps - "every DAY." But what I might love most about this song is how it doesn't sound like any other song I've ever heard.\
2. Adios Hermanos / Paul Simon 4:42
From Simon's oft-neglected album of songs he wrote for the Capeman musical, this is a beautifully evocative mix of Doo Wop and Puerto Rican salsa sounds. I love how the sound is both somber and stately without being drab or colorless - the female singer who adds color in the middle does a world of good. I simply adore the ending, and the way Simon imbues "and they rode that black mariah," with such weary sadness, bleached of anger.
3. The End Of The World / John Mellencamp 3:24
I got Mellencamp's album of blues covers, Trouble in Mind, a few years back, and never really listened much. Then somehow I came across this cover on my Ipod wand was stunned by how good it is. One of Mellencamp's best-ever vocal deliveries, hitting the weariness of the blues style just enough, without overstating it. It's a simple, very straightforward arrangement, but it works perfectly.
4. Devil's Arcade / Bruce Springsteen 5:22
Would it be crazy to call the cello that comes in 30 or seconds after the start of this song my favorite Bruce moment ever? It's just such a sublime, haunting, simple-yet-devastating melody. One of those tunes you can't believe isn't already out there already.
5. The Man Who Sold the World / Jordis Unga 2:12
Three summers later, and RockStar finalist Unga has yet to release an album. And it's a pity, because she was easily the most talented of that first season's crop of singers. Here, she sings the hell out of the David Bowie song (even if she's really doing a cover of the Nirvana unplugged cover). The pain and anguish in how she sings the word "world" is sublime.
6. Don't Dwell / Tracy Chapman 3:22
Chapman's last album is a bit underrated. This slow, moving, very melancholy song is the standout - add some distortion and electronic noodling to the arrangement and it could easily be a Radiohead song. Very atmospheric and moody, especially for Chapman.
7. Philadelphia / Neil Young 4:07
As has been oft-noted, the song that should have won the Oscar. The sheer beauty of this song, including the understated sadness in Young's voice, and the resigned piano chords, is just wonderful.
8. Come Down In Time / Sting 3:46
A song I never ever hear anyone talking about. It's Sting covering Elton John, with just bass and piano, and it's a sad, 3AM-sounding, thing, with a superb vocal from Sting. I love the way he holds on to the final note for just a hair too long.
9. Mercy / U2 6:31
An illicit bootleg of a song cut at the last minute from their last album. This is a great, epic, modern U2 song, the aughts' version of Bad, with passionate, anguished vocals from Bono and some very classic U2 guitar work from the Edge. A version of this will likely surface on the new album coming out this fall.
10. The Show Must Go On / Queen 4:36
The world's greatest rock singer has AIDS and is terrified and furious. That's really all you need to know. No one will ever cover this song as well.
11. All This Useless Beauty / Elvis Costello 4:40
A delicate, sweetly melancholy ballad from Elvis. There are some great lyrics here - the opening line, "It's at times such as this/she'd be tempted to spit/If she wasn't so ladylike/She imagines how she might have lived/Back when legends and history collide," is just perfect.
12. Shelter From The Storm / Cassandra Wilson 5:18
Jazz/blues singer Wilson does great covers, and this Dylan cover is maybe her best - the chugging, propulsive, still-jazzy acoustic guitar parts are great, especially the way they gain momentum throughout the song. Dylan can be hard to sing, so strong are his own idiosyncrasies as a singer and so strongly does he imprint those on his melodies, but Wilson does a beautiful job. I'd kill for an album of Dylan covers by her.
13. Overkill (Acoustic Version) / Colin Hay 3:47
Discovered this in the Season Two Scrubs premiere and have loved it ever since. A great, great acoustic guitar song, with some nicely contained virtuosic playing at the bridge and an amazing energy.
14. Wise Up / Aimee Mann 3:32
Mann has a new album out! Must get. This is probably my favorite song of hers, especially for it's slowly chugging arrangement and the way she hits the high notes with such an air of measured hopelessness and control.
15. No Cars Go / Arcade Fire 5:44
Loud, exuberant, and big and theatrical in the best sense of the word, with a massive pileup of singers and instruments at the end that literally makes me shake with joy.
16.True Love Waits / Radiohead 5:03
An acoustic live track. Gorgeous and simple.
17.Sugar Baby / Bob Dylan 6:40
Dylan stares mortality in the face and converses with it. This is probably my favorite vocal performance of Dylan's - I love the weariness and age in the voice, and I love the way he's constructed the song around these big mid-phrase pauses - he sometimes sounds like a forgetful old man trying to remember a word - "I got my back - PAUSE - to the sun 'cause - PAUSE - the light is too intense." And what a devastating phrase that is?
18.Crash Course / Crash Test Dummies
A very melancholy, hauntingly beautiful, very short piano solo that seemed a great way to close out the disc.