Peter and I were discussing the latest Bright Eyes album this morning (“Down In The Weeds, Where the World Once Was”). It’s obviously good – it’s worthy with a lot of words and a lot of instrumentation but over the last few days I haven’t been in the mood to listen to it. A lot of the songs seem to refer to broken relationships and the end of the world. It’s bad enough reading about BREXIT and Covid-19 without listening to Conor Oberst’s doom laden take on life. I’ve been listening to Kathleen Edwards and Molly Tuttle a lot. They are both more soothing, more healing. As I’ve said before, there are no rules as to how you must feel at a given time and what music takes your fancy. Next time Peter and I are going to discuss Phoebe Bridgers album “Punisher”. I thought I’d give it a listen in the garden this afternoon. I felt sleepy. The music was lovely. The weather was hot. The grass needed cutting. All the teachers were in jackets and ties going to a meeting about someone who had died and I was in pajamas. I woke up and half an hour had passed. Lovely. Soothing, healing, comforting music.
Later, I was looking at my Spotify playlists. Every Friday, the Spotify algorithm tells me what to like with its “Release Radar”. You can’t argue with technology as Paddy never said but I like these suggestions. It’s how I first heard of Molly Tuttle. In May, a song called “Hometown” by Sarah Jarosz was on my Release Radar. I loved it then and I love it now. It’s very simple – acoustic guitar, subtle percussion, a gentle electric guitar and a lovely melody beautifully sung. The lyrics concern someone who many years ago left her hometown but after her life took many turns for the worse, she is back. Not necessarily happy to be back but it’s the best option for her. There’s a great question in one of the verses. “What makes a life complete? Roads traveled and people you meet? Or is it just the silence of the times in between?” I don’t know. Sarah Jarosz herself, comes from a town called Wimberley with a population of a couple of thousand and is half way between Austin and San Antonio. The version on the album is excellent. The live performance in the YouTube clip is genuinely moving.
By contrast, “Maggie” begins the story that is concluded in “Hometown”. Sarah Jerosz attended a high school reunion and talked to a former classmate who explained how she had left Wimberley with high hopes. The chorus is “Drive across the desert in a blue Ford Escape/Hopefully this car will live up to its name.” Sarah Jarosz is quoted as saying “I realized Wimberley is such a huge part of me and I realized I had never written about it. It’s at once a very simple and very multi-faceted kind of town”. The detail that she includes in her lyrics (football games, processed food, the colour of her car, the tattoos etc) give the songs a detail that, to my mind, is redolent of a brilliant independent movie. The album was produced by John Leventhal and between them they play all the instruments on the album. Although the YouTube clip suggests that Chris Thile is accompanying her, it is in fact John Leventhal (who seems to be a pretty amazing guitar player).
“I’ll Be Gone” is sung by a protagonist who is ending a relationship. She can anticipate things getting much worse (“before the flames consume the walls“) , so it’s time to go. This song is more uptempo and the percussion is slightly more to the fore. Her voice is double tracked for the chorus. I think it’s marvellous how such personal songs can be wrapped up in what I would call a perfect pop format. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, instrumental break, outro. Brilliant. A very enjoyable and easy listen and lyrics that are well worth exploring. As opposed to Bright Eyes (which, on another day, I probably would have loved).
Sara Jarosz is aware that people will be listening to these songs whilst in lockdown and feeling the effects of the pandemic. She has addressed the issue of how the current situation will give people a different way of processing lyrics such as those on this album. She says that “it’s interesting when current events sort of shift the perspective or the feeling of a song. I’ve gone back and forth about how I feel about releasing this record at this time but ultimately I’m just so glad that it is coming out. I think it’s going to be hard for people to listen to, or take in, new art without judging it or thinking about it in current contexts, but I hope almost that it’s able to be the opposite of that, where it’s able to be almost this escapist feeling or, even if you can draw similarities to the current moment, that it’s comforting somehow.”
Spot on. It is comforting to listen to music as beautiful as this.