Little Pieces of the Zeitgeist, May 14, 2006

Although in my 50s, music remains important, and it's still rock 'n' roll music for me.  I can still find joy and meaning in it — although not necessarily both at the same time.  But there's so many variations and genres, it's pretty simplistic to call anything just rock music anymore.

Playing today on our trusty 5-CD player with its wonderful random function (I guess it's like an iPod without the portability) are the following 5 CDs.  They spin like little pieces of the Zeitgeist.  They all happen to be new CDs, which is not that usual for me.  I go through spurts of buying old acts with new releases and some younger new bands that I read reviews about or come across some other way.  I've found that Metacritic is a pretty good source of reviews about many new releases (

1. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Attribute it to my own insularity: I never paid much attention to Bruce until fairly recently.  He was just this East Coast guy who did Born to Run and a few other decent tunes.  I heard him in an interview once, and he must have been having a bad day, because it was one of the most inarticulate things I ever heard.  But then I heard him on Warren Zevon's last album and in that documentary about Zevon's last year of life before he died of lung cancer.  Springsteen showed up for some sessions, and played for his dying friend some of the most sizzling, impassioned electric guitar I've ever heard.

Then I bought The Rising and the DVD of his concert with the E Street Band in Barcelona.  He really is a rock god.

On this album, my growing appreciation for him meets my existing appreciation for Pete Seeger and that vein of folk music.

Pete Seeger, and especially his participation in the folk group The Weavers, were a major part of my early life.  I grew up in a log cabin in northern British Columbia. We lived there without electricity or telephones for years.  Our entertainment centred around a Phillips battery powered phonograph.  Many winter nights my brothers and I went to sleep listening to the Weavers singing many of the songs that are on this album: Old Dan Tucker, John Henry, Shenandoah, Pay Me My Money Down, Froggie Went a Courtin'.

It's great to hear Bruce attack these songs with his large group of players.  He makes them come alive again.  And although they are old, the anti-war sentiments of a song like "Mrs. McGrath" come through clear.

2. Neil Young, Living With War

I am a Neil Young fan, since the days of After the Goldrush and Harvest and the collaborations with Crosby, Stills and Nash. I'm looking forward to seeing the new documentary on his life and times.

This album has got a lot of attention on the Web. I've yet to hear anything from it, though, on our local radio stations here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia in Canada, but I admit I don't listen so much to the radio. It's funny how for nine-tenths of the interesting and strong music out there, you never hear it on the radio…

Of course it is a protest album, about those liars and war criminals in Washington, DC, and its full of passion, melody and anger. I like it, how forthright it is. I wish the production was a little better, though. At least my copy seems to have been reproduced at a fairly low volume level. I keep having to turn it up!

From Let's Impeach the President

Let's impeach the president for spyin'

On citizens inside their own homes

Breaking every law in the country

Tapping our computers and telephones

What if Al-Qaeda blew up the levees

Would New Orleans have been safer that way

Sheltered by our government's protection

Or was someone just not home that day?”

From The Restless Consumer

The restless consumer flies

Around the world each day

With such an appetite for taste and grace

People from around the world

Need someone to listen

We're starving and dying from our disease

We need your medicine

How do you pay for war

And leave us dyin'?

When you could do so much more

You're not even tryin'

Those lines make me feel a little uncomfortable… maybe that's part of the idea.

3. Paul Simon, Surprise

Ah, these old retreads keep popping up, don't they? This time Simon is headed off in a new direction, in collaboration with Brian Eno, a master of electronic soundscapes.

Simon is a great songwriter and I enjoy the light versatility of his singing voice too. There are songs of protest and thoughtfulness on this album too:

From Outrageous

It's outrageous to line your pockets off the misery of the poor. Outrageous, the crimes some human beings must endure. It's a blessing to wash your face in the summer solstice rain. It's outrageous a man like me stands here and complains. But I'm tired. Nine hundred sit-ups a day. I'm painting my hair the color of mud, mud okay? Anybody care what I say? No! I'm painting my hair the color of mud.”

If you enjoy Paul Simon, and feel at all nostalgic about Simon and Garfunkle, the fairly recent DVD reunion concert with the two of them is moving.

4. Rainer Maria, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together

At last, a much newer act. Besides liking that title a lot, I like their music, which comes out of the midwest emo scene, apparently. Starting in Wisconsin, this trio – two guys and a girl – have transplanted to New York. One reviewer of this album called it a collection of loud pop songs and quiet punk rock. The songs have an intelligent drive to them.

The name of the band of course was the result of a poetry workshop the members attended together.

Many of the songs refer to loss – or catastrophe – and Caithlin De Marrais's voice expresses that well.

5. The Subways, Young For Eternity

I confess to an unseemly liking for some punk music, or probably more accurately, post-punk merging into indie rock. Driving, energetic, why it just makes me feel young again…

I mean how can you beat this:

Rock & Roll Queen:

You are the sun

You are the only one

My heart is blue

My heart is blue for you

Be my, be my, be my little rock & roll queen

Another trio, this time of English teenagers, they've been praised to high heaven in the British music press. They're not the greatest rock 'n' roll band ever, but on occasion they do make me want to get up and jump around.

One reviewer said that this album is “the one the White Stripes should make, period.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Music

2 Comments on “Little Pieces of the Zeitgeist, May 14, 2006”

  1. bloglily Says:

    Great review! Thanks — I’m looking forward to turning up the volume on Let’s Impeach the President. The others sound interesting; it’s good to hear about new music. (We’ve been listening to the new Bruce Springsteen a lot and love it.)

  2. fencer Says:

    Yes, I get a great kick out of how he just tears into "Old Dan Tucker" for instance. It reminds me of dances at the Round Lake Community Hall…

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