Song: Silver Wheels
Artist: Bruce Cockburn
This track’s from the celebrated Canadian artist’s seventh studio album, 1976’s In The Falling Dark. It’s from his more overtly Christian era, before notions of doubt and grey washes of complexity set in. It’s also before he earned a widespread (notorious, even) reputation for environmental activism and social justice. The occasionally staid earnestness of this period is tempered by the crystalline sound of his virtuoso guitar playing and free-spirited prolificness. As a guitarist, Cockburn rarely gives over to flashy self-indulgence; this cut is no exception. The track is anchored by a simple acoustic riff serving as a spine for what is literally a driving song, one about the endlessly unwinding road, the transitions and zones of demarcation from country to city, the influence of homo sapiens on the natural world - inevitably, haunting questions of morality. In other words, it’s a classic Cockburn tune.
Though his later works would become more overly political even relatively earlier songs like this one reflect the same fundamental concerns and questions seething under the surface. Lyrically Cockburn is masterfully on point and evocative. Fred Stone’s unexpected and invigorating flugelhorn solo break intervenes before Cockburn again dives back into the cauldron, spitting out a breathless reel of rapid lyrical observations playing against that steady, lonely, looping acoustic spine. You can almost feel the pavement rushing underneath as you listen.
Band: Melody Gardot
With Melody Gardot's fourth album, 2015’s The Currency of Man, the American stylist strays away from the comparatively genteel comfort zone of her previous outings, expanding her repertoire and taking some creative risks. Not everything works equally well but kudos to her for pushing her boundaries and venturing into new territory. Preacherman’s scintillating atmosphere and gristly edges owes much to the superb instrumentation and slinky, deft production. Elastic guitars and sonorous saxophones lead the charge. There’s still the assured Gardot gloss in abundance, but there’s also a gritty organic foundation anchoring the track and Gardot’s phrasing more frequently delves into choice theatrical instances of raspy emotional rawness. Great official video below - gives the song a sobering added dimension.
Song: E-bow the Letter
This haunting lament comes from REM’s 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It’s a bittersweet tribute to River Phoenix, who had died three years earlier at the age 23 of a drug-induced heart attack at the notorious West Hollywood nightclub, The Viper Room. Mead Michael Stipe’s lyrics come across like a desperate letter too late to save his friend from a dangerous drug dependency. In a series of hallucinatory vignettes the lyrics flow in a suspended string of poetic free-associating visions. The E-bow refers to a simple electronic sustaining device guitarist Peter Buck used to give his guitar a fluid, droning tone, provide an atmosphere both morose and menacing. Balancing out all the daunting negativity are the luminous backing vocals of Patti Smith, injecting siren notes of sweet mystery and transcendant deliverance. It’s a pretty amazing tune.
This sweetly mysterious tune comes from the now-defunct Toronto band’s 2011 album Metal Meets. Casey Mecija's winsome, softly rounded vocals are a big part of the draw, immersed within deliberate, mid-tempo pacing and an smoothly nuanced arrangement. It’s a track resonating with the sorrow and longing of homesick souls. The title refers to an overseas Filipino - either one who is abroad indefinitely as a citizen or permanent resident of a different country, or a Filipino citizen abroad for a limited period, such as on a work contract or an international student. The term also applies to care packages such people send back to family and friends back home. Either way, it’s all of a piece - this is a pensive track about loyalty, compassion and the pull of memory.