This time of year, when the weather gets hot, I get excited and start making up cassettes for the car. Drives my wife and kids crazy. They just have to put up with it. I paid for the car.
Here are some of the new albums I’m anxious to test drive in the summer of 2002.
In July, we always spend a couple of weeks up in the mountains, and that’s where you want to navigate that line where rock, folk and country meet up.
Gillian Welch has several CDs of Appalachian influenced music, and she was part of the "O Brother Where Art Thou" phenomenon. But her new record, "Time (The Revelator)," achieves what all her other work has been pointing toward. It has that old haunted country quality but mixed with a very contemporary, almost novelistic look at the inner workings of a smart woman’s mind and emotions. Imagine if Susan Minot wrote lyrics for the Carter Family.
There’s a song called "My First Lover" that sounds like it’s 100 years old – until she sings about losing her innocence to a Steve Miller song. It’s mountain music for people who climb mountains in SUVs.
On the other side of that cassette, I’m going to put an album by Patty Griffin called "1000 Kisses." This record is so delicately made, so handcrafted, that its power sneaks up on you. The characters in Patty Griffin’s songs all seem fine on the surface – they’re making pies for the whole neighborhood, they’re riding in the back of big cars – but underneath it, they’re hanging on by a loose thread.
She does a beautiful cover of Bruce Springsteen’s "Stolen Car" that sums up the feeling of the album – someone who looks perfectly normal but who is secretly waiting for the bottom to fall out of her life. Great stuff.
We spend a lot of the summer in the city, too, and you want music for parties on the roof and watching fireworks on the river. The first CD by a singer named Norah Jones is going to be playing at a lot of dinner parties this year. It’s a beautiful, precocious record by a young singer-pianist with a lot of jazz influences. It’s already creating a big buzz, and it’s already stirred up a little backlash among purists who protest that it’s not a real jazz album. To which I say, "OK. It’s not a real jazz album. You go sit in the corner with your headphones and listen to Albert Ayler and leave the rest of us alone."
I’m going to put it on a cassette with the latest album by Cassandra Wilson – a truly great jazz singer who also gets her knuckles rapped for coloring outside the lines.
OK. I hear you saying, "Summer is not all soft and reflective. We need music to take us to the beach and the barbecue and the beer blast. We need music to take the top down."
Well, this July Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant is releasing a real labor of love, a collection of his high octane take on old songs by Jimi Hendrix, Tim Buckley, the Youngbloods and other lost icons of the hippie days. The affection and enthusiasm Plant put into this project really comes through – it’s like he’s gone back and made the album Zeppelin might have made if they’d started recording in the summer of love.
We’ll play that all the way to the beach, and then on the way home, when we’re sunburned and exhausted and we’ve eaten too many clam cakes, I’ll switch the tape over and put on "The Oceanic Concerts" by the Who’s Pete Townshend. This is an unusual record that Townshend made with the classical musician Raphael Rudd in London more than 20 years ago - and has only now released.
Townshend mixed acoustic versions of some of his hits with devotional songs accompanied by Rudd’s piano and harp. "Oceanic" is a good name for it – the music trickles, swells and subsides. Just the right tunes for when you’ve spent a day swimming, you’ve had a shower, and you’re watching the sunset.
Down to the shore with Zeppelin, back home with the Who. This is gonna be just like the summer I got my driver’s license.