Sunday, July 03, 2005

We’ll Fix It in the Mix


I mailed my Mixed Bag 2 CD’s a little while ago, so I guess I’d better post a little about my mix, just in case anyone wanted to see what I was thinking.

As a newcomer to the mix group and a relative unknown in the comics blog scene*, I wanted to put a solid mix together that would make a strong impression on people, whether good or bad. I also wanted to be entertaining and hopefully provide everybody with at least one artist they didn’t know, but would like enough to search out more of their work. Plus, as the owner of a large collection of pretty diverse CD’s, I wanted to reflect the width (and hopefully) depth of my collection, my regular listening habits, and stuff I’ve been listening to recently. To top it all off, I wanted it all to sound good together, and have a decent flow to it.

I thought I had the mix all worked out and was ready to burn, when I started to get the first CD’s from the other participants. The ones I was getting were about 20 minutes shorter than the ones I was planning to send out!

I had gone really conservative on song lengths, and as a result only had about 60 minutes of music and about 17 songs. Keith told me not to mess with a mix that I was happy with. But I really felt like, if others were sending me twenty-plus songs, then it was only fair that I give them the same. I went back to my list of possibilities for the mix, and pulled five more that I thought would work well with what I had.

I think it all works well together and makes a nice package, but that may just be because I know and really like these songs. I really didn’t intend to, but I ended up putting the songs on in three semi-distinct groups, with a couple of exceptions.

I really got into this, right down to the packaging. I made the cover/insert by photocopying the inside of a CD case a couple of times and pasting the copies together. Then I typed out my title and song list, printed them, tore them off the large sheet of paper, taped them to the photocopy and copied the whole deal. The whole process of making a mix CD is so technological that I wanted to bring a little bit of a “home made” feel to the cover that using a graphics program and clip art just wouldn’t have. I was pleased with the end result, which had a great DIY look and feel, that I thought complemented the mix.

I agonized over actually doing a CD label, due to the expense and large amount of black ink it would require. I looked at several alternatives, but none really worked the way I wanted. After seeing that the bulk of the CD’s I was getting didn’t have labels, I felt okay about giving up the idea and just pulling out the old sharpie.

Anyway, here’s what’s there and why it’s there:

Johnny Rottentail by Amy Ray, from the 2001 Daemon Records CD, Stag

This was one of the later additions to the mix. Amy Ray** is best known as part of the Indigo Girls. Her first solo album, Stag, was Ray’s way of paying homage to her punk roots with a loud, rocking, non-Indigo Girls-like CD. Oddly enough, I think this song, with a solo Ray wailing away and flailing at her mandolin captures that spirit better than any other song on the CD, even though they’re all full of loud, high-speed electric guitars. She manages to draw a connection between the organic, emotionally powerful thrust of traditional mountain music and those same characteristics in punk. And the story she tells, with its elements of good and evil, mercy and redemption, sounds like it stepped off the front porch of someone’s cabin in the Tennessee Mountains. I felt it made a good bookend for the “official” tracks when paired with the Teen Idols cut.

“I loves him but I won’t miss him, as he’s burning and he’s twsting.”***

Every Day I Love You Less and Less by the Kaiser Chiefs, from the 2005 Universal CD, Employment

This is one of the newest CD's I’ve got. I just got it in the last month or so. I really like to go to our independent music shop and listen to the new CD’s each month. Sometimes, I’ll end up buying one even if I don’t know anything else about the artist. This was one of those times. I really like the 80’s pop feel of their sound, which combines with their sarcastic lyrics (a little reminiscent of The Smiths) to make an irresistible combination for me. In the original mix, I felt this one started off things with a kick. In the final version, I liked the shift from the shout that ends “Rottentail” to the synth beats that start this one.

“I can’t believe once you and I did sex.”

Let’s All Live Underground by the Merediths, from the 2005 Debauchery Records CD/EP, A Closed Universe

The Merediths are a Louisville indie pop group. I liked the retro-pop sound of this song. It feels like it ought to be played right after Yellow Submarine. Plus it’s so bittersweet, morbid, and almost frightening that I can’t help but like it. “Let’s all die and get buried together!”

“Now I’m gone and searching for cover.”

New Casablanca by Shivaree, from the 2005 Zoë Records CD, Who’s Got Trouble?

Shivaree is one of my musical discoveries for this year. I read a good review of this CD that convinced me to go out and pick it up. If they still made movies with scenes set in nightclubs, where the action and plot grind completely to a halt while everyone listens to the performers, then the performers would be Shivaree. The only way that I can describe their music is either Rock Cabaret or Postmodern Torch. Either way, I’m really drawn to these songs. Everything about them sounds right, the arrangements, the more modern instruments, and the clever, but not too clever, lyrics. I had a hard time picking just one song off this CD, but eventually decided to go with the shortest one, which I also find myself humming quite a bit. You really can’t go wrong with a song that includes the phrase “Handsome Buckaroo.”

“It won’t be over easy, but it could be over soon.”

Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley, from the 2004 Brute/Beaute Records CD, More Adventurous

This is another one I got based on the strength of the reviews. I like the lyrics, the jangly indie power pop stylings, and the structure of their songs. They all tend to run long, so I picked this one at random. It’s another one that I catch myself singing from time to time.

“The talking leads to touching, and the touching leads to sex, soon there is no mystery left.”

Ooh La La by the Ditty Bops, from the 2004 Warner Brothers CD, The Ditty Bops

This is the last song in the “Favorite New Artist” portion of the mix. It’s also another listening station discovery. I really like their modern twist on the old timey sound and their quirky lyrics. This is another one where choosing the song was really hard. I finally went with this one for the chant-like chorus. When I bought this CD (in San Francisco) the clerk in the store and I chatted about it for almost five minutes. Turns out, at least there, that a lot of people are listening to it and buying it on the spur of the moment.

“What they call summer love is happening in Spring.”

Drifting by Sugar Plant, from the 1997 World Domination CD, After After Hours

I have some kind genetic inability to bypass any CD that looks even slightly interesting, which costs a buck or less. Turns out the Great Escape in Nashville has an annex, where they sell stuff at greatly reduced prices—including tons of CD’s for a buck or less. Whenever we’re down there, I tend to go in and drop five or ten bucks on a small stack of stuff and spend the next few weeks listening through it. The miss to hit ratio is pretty high, but at those prices, it’s a bargain if I only find four or five things I really like.

This CD came from our last trip down. It looked interesting, and boy it sure is! I guess I’d call it Japanese emo lounge jazz or something like that. Maybe it’s the music or maybe it’s the bizarre lyrics in such stilted English, but there’s something about this CD that I just love! This song in particular.

“When will an angel come and give me two ears to hear?”

La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf, from the 1998 Prism Leisure CD, La Vie En Rose

There are some things I like to listen to from time to time when the mood strikes. Edith Piaf is one of them. Sometimes life just needs a few French cabaret songs, you know? La Vie en Rose is probably my favorite Piaf song. I thought the CD needed a song that actually did come from another era, after so many that incorporated sounds and stylings from earlier eras. I also really wanted to have at least one song that wasn’t in English, to represent that part of my music collection.

“Voila le portrait sans retouche de l'homme auquel j'appartiens”

Flying Saucer by Brave Combo, from the 1995 Rounder Records CD, Polkas for a Gloomy World

Do I need to say anything more than “It’s a polka about UFO’s”? This group tends to run the gamut of musical styles that incorporate accordions and do it all fairly well. This is a CD that always puts me in a good mood.

“Something way beyond sex, death, or birth or playing music in this band.”

No Myth by Michael Penn, from the 1989 RCA CD, March

I love the drum programming on this one and the way it interacts with the acoustic guitar. This is the only song Penn’s ever done that approached even minor hit status. It’s a shame really, because he’s a fantastic songwriter. One of my favorite tunes (and albums) from the late 80’s. I had to search all over to find this CD. It was an addition to the original mix.

“She blocked her eyes and drew the curtains with knots I’ve got yet to untie.”

All That Heaven Will Allow by the Mavericks, from the 1994 MCA CD, What a Crying Shame

From here on out, except for the next song, the last “official” one and the “bonuses” this section pretty much represents my main musical interests and most frequent listening habits. This is my favorite CD from the Mavericks, and probably their most well-known. Raul Malo is at his finest here, and the band handles a bunch of different styles. This is a cover of a Springsteen tune that just sounds so perfect in this setting. It’s such a sweet, sweet love song I had to put it on here.

“So come on Mr. Trouble. We’ll make it though you somehow.”

I Spent My Last Ten Dollars on Birth Control and Beer by 2 Nice Girls, from the 1989 Rough Trade CD, 2 Nice Girls

I’m guessing this one will cause the most difficulty for some folks. It was a hard tune to place in the mix, both musically and thematically. No matter when I put it, it seemed to stand out a little more than I thought it should. Still, I really felt I had to include it. It’s an old favorite and it’s part of who I am.

It’s a reminder of those days when Keith and I would go to the lesbian bars to hear the musicians play because we got tired of the dance music at the more male-oriented bars. We started with a local women’s folk-rock group, and from there got turned on to nationally touring groups like 2NG.

Don’t laugh! It’s also how we discovered Michelle Shocked and several other singer-songwriters with guitars. Although for the record, I was an Indigo Girls fan long before I started going to lesbian bars, and even before Keith and I got together. In fact, I introduced him to the Indigos’ music.

Anyway, I’m thinking some of the lyrics here are going to come off as anti-hetero or anti-male, which might cause problems. I’ve always thought the song was a hoot myself, kind of an ironic poke at both some extreme homophobic attitudes (“You just need to find the right man.”) and some of the more extreme lesbian lines of thought (“Men ruin everything in the world.”) It’s way over the top, especially the abortion line, but it’s great, pointed satire. It still makes me smile when I play it.

“I did not drink. I did not smoke. I did not say goddam.”

Birches by Bill Morrissey, from the 1994 Philo CD, Philo So Far

A songwriter, his guitar, and a good story—that’s all you really need, as far as I’m concerned. This one comes off the folk label Philo’s 20th anniversary anthology, and is probably my favorite song on the disc. That’s really saying something when you realize that folks like Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell are also on it. The imagery is so vivid I can see these people and hear their conversation. I can feel the heat from the logs and watch her shadows on the wall. What makes the song so totally engrossing for me is the ending. She doesn’t leave to seek someone who will share her sparks of passion. He doesn’t suddenly change his mind and come dance with her. She thinks about what she’s had and what she’s missing, and still decides that she still got a pretty good deal despite it all. It gives me goosebumps, which is always a sign of a good song.

I’m currently on a quest for out of print Bill Morrissey CD’s, by the way.

“Pour yourself just half a glass, and stay for just a little while.”

Our Lady of the Shooting Stars by Mary Gauthier, from the 1999 Groove House CD, Drag Queens in Limousines

Mary Gauthier is my big musical obsession at the moment, so it was a given she would be here. Which song to choose wasn’t quite as obvious. I love her dark, bleak take on life and society and her growly vocals. No one writes or sings like she does. I decided to pass up the obvious choice, anything from her current CD, Mercy Now, and go for something older. I like Mercy Now, especially the political edge that starts coming out in some of her songs, but the songs on the Drag Queens and Limousines CD have a more personal, intimate feel to them. I finally picked this one because of the strong emotions--yearning for salvation and peace in the arms of an unattainable lover. It’s very powerful.

“I have followed gypsies, girl. I’ve lost my way back home.”

Pony by Kasey Chambers, from the 2004 Warner Brothers CD, Wayward Angel

This was an addition to the original mix. Chambers fits really nicely between Gauthier and Sobule, I think. Some of my favorite chicks with guitars, I guess. The kind of jazzy stroll here is a little different from the more overt folkie/Americana leanings of Chambers’ other stuff, which is one reason I included it here. I also thought that one of Chambers’ own songs of longing for that unattainable love fit well after the Gauthier tune, although Chambers’ tends to be a lot more desperate in her yearnings, more like a needy obsession for a lover that will give her some sense of self-esteem.

“He’s nice but he looks so mean.”

Rainy Day Parade by Jill Sobule from the 2000 Beyond CD, Pink Pearl

I love Jill Sobule for her quirky songwriting. Pink Pearl is her best CD as far as I’m concerned, and this is one of the best songs on it. I love the Petula Clark-ish vibe and the catchy tune. And I love the way that the words all of a sudden hit you after you’ve been humming them out loud for a few minutes. “Did she really just say ‘Back on my medication?’”

“I used to have the stars in my pocket, now I just watch them on TV.”

Comin’ Around by Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, from the 2004 Artemis CD, The Revolution Starts…NOW

I had to include Emmylou Harris somewhere, as she is the goddess of music. BUt I also had to be careful, because I could very easily crete a CD with nothing but Emmylou on it. I ended up going with this duet from Steve Earle’s last CD because it’s my favorite of all the duets they’ve done over the years. Both of their voices have this world weary kind of rasp that suits the characters in this song perfectly. I also like the song’s sense of latent optimism, especially coming off an album that’s full to the brim with the ills of American society. It flows well from the “getting my life together” vibe of the Sobule song, plus it has that really cool vocal tracking at the end. Steve and Emmy singing with Steve and Emmy!

“My heart’s a little ragged, but it’s all that I’ve got.”

Pretty Dresses by Amy Farris from the 2004 Yep Roc CD Anyway

At this pont I didn't feel like my mix was gay enough, so I dug this song out and added it. :-)

Actually, after skating safely in the Americana rink for several songs, I decided to do a hard turn into heavy alt-country twang. I added this to the mix because I felt it set the stage for the shift to punk-pop to follow. I really like this song for the way it takes all the emotional tricks and clichés of honky tonk music and then turns them on their head with one line: “Or was I just a pretty dress to you?” And the singer starts becoming just a little more than just a pleading, dumped lover trying to get her man back.

“Can silk or satin make love anew?”

Porno Shop by Teen Idols, from the 1997 Honest Don’s Hardly CD, Teen Idols

I wanted to “end” the CD with something completely different from what went before, just to make it memorable. This song fit the bill perfectly. I’ve only got one Teen Idols CD, but I’d like to get some more. They’re not quite as accessible as the slew of radio-ready punk-pop bands out there, but their songs are a lot of fun.

“It may suck now, but he knows somehow he’ll see his face on TV screens.”

A Couple Small Tracks of Silence

I wanted some space after the Teen Idols song before the “bonus” songs and the burning program I was using wouldn’t give me more than two seconds. So I ripped a few seconds of silence from the end of one song and inserted the mini-track here a few times. That’s why your CD player is telling you there are actually five tracks after the “official” last song.

BONUS TRACK 1: I Want to Be a Mysterious Woman by Christine Lavin, from the 1994 Philo CD, Philo So Far

I couldn’t resist including a bonus. This one also comes off the Philo anniversary CD. Christine Lavin is known for her witty and humorous folk songs. Sometimes she stretches her point a bit too much for my tastes, causing her songs become a bit precocious. She treads that line here, but it fits in with my reasons for using it.

I originally gave this mix a deliberate self-mocking ironic kind of title to poke a little fun at myself and at the approach I had intended to take to the CD, which was throwing a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t fit together solely because it was bizarre and obscure. (At least half of the songs I was considering at first were not in English.) I scrapped that approach in favor of creating something people might actually want to listen to, with a few of those original elements sprinkled in, but not dominating the whole mix. That felt like a better way to musically introduce myself. I can go totally gonzo next time.

Anyway, the whole idea of creating a deliberately “mysterious” persona who orders strange drinks and eats obscure food felt like a perfect way to have a little fun at the whole idea. Even after I changed my approach, I couldn’t quite let go of this song. Here it is in tribute to the Eddie-torial Comments mix that could have been.

“Maybe it’ll work a little better, if you pretend I’m not wearing underwear.”

BONUS TRACK 2: Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate by Stanley Thompson with Clifford Ellis and Group, from the 1996 Rounder Records CD, All Over the Map

And just to drive that point home that I really can do much more off-beat music, in a much more pretentious, "mysterious woman" kind of manner: a Bahamian rhyming song! :-) And it was originally part of some field recordings made in the 60's. I figure it doesn't get much more deliberately obtuse or high-faluting than that, unless your name is Mike or Dorian!

Actually, I do like this song quite a bit. I think the volcals are awesome, and have a rough-hewn, organic soud in them that ties back to the opening song and brings everything to a nice close.

“Lord. Lord.”

*I know. I know. If I would just blog more, it would help. Oh well,,,

**By happy coincidence, I am typing this while listening to her new solo CD, Prom, which is awesome on so many levels I don’t have room to describe them here. Sadly, it doesn’t look like she’s doing any touring to support it. At least, the only dates I can find any info for are Indigos dates.

***I’ve lifted the idea of including a quote from each song from Greg Burgas, who did it in the excellent liner notes to his own CD.