Band: The Jayhawks
The Jayhawks hail from Minnesota’s’ Twin Cities and have been around since the mid-80s - with a slew of bumpy band breakups and reunions along the way. Over the years they’ve largely stayed true to their easy-listening, alt-country roots. This one’s from 2003’s Rainy Day Music. The time-honoured angst of heartache and toasted relationships is what’s served up here, the understated message delivered with a fine-grained sense of melody and exquisite timing. Fantastic economy of arrangement with maximum impact - the Jayhawks in top form.
Song: Cold Part of Town
Band: Concrete Blonde
Cold Part of Town is from Concrete Blonde’s 1986 eponymous debut album. The spare lyrics perfectly suit the LA band’s stark, all-business arrangement which evokes a remote, forlorn, faintly sinister place. Songwriter, bassist and lead singer Johnette Napolitano instills a welcome dose of warmth and fragile humanity in this song about loneliness, regret, bad choices - and perhaps a slim shred of hope. Drummer Harry Rushakoff and guitarist James Mankey complete the tightly cohesive trio, but it’s Napolitano’s powerful and distinctive vocals which carry the load and give the song its aching heart. Youtube link below.
Song: Kid for Today
Band: Boards of Canada
Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, Edinborough’s brotherly duo, make compelling electronica obliquely exploring a wide range of emotions and themes - very often involving dark, unsettling vibes. Kid for Today is a different sort of animal. It opens up A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, their four-track EP released in 2000. A lush, chilled number which takes its own sweet time unfolding, its aloof, almost frigidly ethereal mood is offset by a generous warmth of production that makes it feel very old school. There are no staccato moments here - everything blissfully glides with gently rolled-off edges, effortlessly conjuring up notions of nostalgia and sweet yearning. Think of it as a fuzzy blanket of comfort for your brain.
Artist: Ernest Ranglin
Jamaican-born Ernest Ranglin’s career began in the late 40s and continues to this day. Now in his early 80s, he can reflect on several decades of collaboration and innovation in the reggae, pop jazz and and world music spheres. His early foundation as a session player, band leader and musical director in Jamaica through the 40s, 50s and 60s saw him instrumental in developing ska and reggae styles as well as influencing Jamaican and Caribbean musicians who would come after him. He’s a true pioneer who has worked with an impressive roster of famed musicians in their own right. This delicate yet agile instrumental is from his 1998 album In search of the lost riddim and showcases both Ranglin’s chops and his ability to fluidly weave jazz and African sensibilities together into one tight, cohesive whole. Whoever Anna is (or was), she must occupy a tender spot in Ranglin’s heart. There’s a sense of melancholy lightly suspended in the air but the track is so deft and full of life, your ears might also detect notes of joy and gratitude and joy. It’s a tricky balancing act which Ranglin pulls off with graceful aplomb.
Song: Brothers In Arms
Band: Dire Straits
From the massive 1985 album of the same name comes this piercing signature track, which closed out the album. Among its many other attributes, it perfectly exemplifies band leader Mark Knophler’s understated approach to the electric guitar. There’s a sense of willfully restrained power, even when he really opens up and starts to soar above the organ swells. Few songs he’s ever written approach the emotional depth and melancholy resonance of this haunting song about war and unspeakable loss. The poetic lyrics are matched only by the lambent eloquence of his searing guitar lines.