musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Jules Shear’

The Road to Steve Young and Ian Matthews

Many music fans have heard the Eagles singing a song titled “Seven Bridges Road.” Say what you want about the Eagles, but that is a lovely tune that really showcases the band’s gorgeous harmonies. Few listeners, however, are aware that a talented musician by the name of Steve Young was the one who wrote and first recorded that song. And fewer people still have heard perhaps the definite version of “Seven Bridges Road,” the one sung by the prolific yet underrated Ian Matthews. By coincidence, I had all three versions of that song on albums that I listened to on my MP3 device while travelling around Myanmar last month. Synchronicity, or perhaps continuity, would have ensured that I crossed a total of seven bridges during my trip, but alas, even while cycling down rural roads in Shan State, that didn’t happen. But even the lack of bridges couldn’t take away my enjoyment of the tunes. This is my kind of road music.

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I first heard “Seven Bridges Road” in 1978 on Steve Young’s excellent album, No Place To Fall. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was actually the third version that Young had recorded of that song, the first occurring in 1969. But the “hit” version of the song came a few years later, in 1980, when the Eagles recorded an electrifying live acapella version of “Seven Bridges Road” for their mega-selling Eagles Live album. Some critics accused the Eagles of stealing — or at least “borrowing” — the vocal arrangement on “Seven Bridges Road” from the version that Ian Matthews recorded in 1973 on his Valley Hi album, a session that was produced by Michael Nesmith (yes, the guy from the Monkees!). That collection of songs is still considered one of the finest albums that Matthews ever recorded.

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Valley Hi is now available on CD, coupled with another fine album that Matthews recorded in the 1970s, Some Days You Eat the Bear. Matthews has enjoyed a multi-decade run as a solo artist, but he was also a member of the influential folk-rock band Fairport Convention, and later formed his own group, Matthews Southern Comfort, as well as Plainsong. He fuses elements of folk, rock, pop, and country to create very melodic, tuneful songs. Matthews has written his share of original material, but he is best known for covering songs by other artists. He just seems to have a knack for picking and recording very tasteful songs. On the Valley Hi/Some Days You Eat the Bear albums he covered tunes by the likes of Richard Thompson, Gene Clark, Jesse Winchester, Tom Waits, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, and Randy Newman.  Good taste and good versions! Another one of his better albums, Walking a Changing Line, was composed entirely of songs by Jules Shear. Note: Matthews’ first name is sometime spelled as Iain on his albums.

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Meanwhile, Steve Young is also still recording albums under the musical radar. One of his latest efforts was 2005’s acclaimed Switchblades of Love. In addition to that, No Place To Fall was recently packaged on CD along with another of his excellent studio albums, Renegade Picker. Two-for-One goodness. Young’s albums should appeal to fans of alt-country or the outlaw style of country music pioneered in the 1970s by artists such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.

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Jason Isbell’s Triumph

It’s not too soon to be talking about Best Albums of the Year, and one of the contenders for that claim is Jason Isbell’s new album, Southeastern. Isbell is a former member of the acclaimed band Drive-By Truckers, but he left to pursue a solo career about six years ago. On his previous three albums, including the excellent concert recording, Live From Alabama, Isbell shared billing with his band, the 400 Unit, but he is using only his name on this new album. Isbell is an articulate, passionate songwriter, who writes melodic songs that stick in the head. One review I read likened him to a cross between author Raymond Carver and music legend Neil Young. Hmm … not a bad comparison.

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The new album is a continuation of the “thinking man’s southern rock” style of music that he — and also the Drive-By Truckers, who have continued making excellent albums even without Isbell, thanks to having another great songwriter, Patterson Hood in the band— excels at making, but on Southeastern Isbell has sharpened and elevated his craft to an even higher level. The new songs take on a more personal and reflective tone, reflecting some of the changes in Isbell’s own life in the past year or so. I think this is clearly Isbell’s best album yet. There are fewer rockers on the new album, favoring slower songs and ballads, but that doesn’t make the new compositions any less potent. This is powerful, moving music. In addition to that excellent album, here are the other goodies — both old and classic and new and intriguing — that are making me smile lately.

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Terry Edwards – Birth of the Scapegoats

John Fogerty – Wrote a Song For Everyone

Irma Thomas – A Woman’s Viewpoint: The Essential 1970s Recordings

Various – Yellow Pills: Prefill

The Rail Band – Bell Epoque 1: Soundiata

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Slaid Cleaves – Still Fighting the War

Passion Pit – Gossamer

Bobby Whitlock – Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

Solomon Burke – Proud Mary: The Bell Sessions

World Party – Arkeology

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Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture of You

Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

Jonathan Edwards – Jonathan Edwards

The Three O’Clock – The Hidden World Revealed

Johnny Marr – The Messenger

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Various Artists – Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay

Bob Mould – Silver Age

Jules Shear – Sayin’ Hello to the Folks

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: Prix Label

Talking Heads – The Name of This Band is Talking Heads

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Various – Kenya Special

The Strokes – Comedown Machine

The Budos Band – The Budos Band

Jim Boggia – Fidelity is the Enemy

Etta James – Who’s Blue? Rare Chess Recordings

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The Mavericks – In Time

George Jackson – What Would Your Mama Say?

Babyface Willette – Stop & Listen

Canned Heat – The Very Best of

Gene Clark – No Other

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Various Artists – Twin Cities Funk & Soul

The Primitives – The Best of

Kelly Hogan & the Pine Vally Cosmonauts – Beneath the Country Underdog

Dean & Britta – L’Avventura

Robert Cray – Live at the BBC

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Head East – Live

Andy Kim – How’d We Ever Get This Way/Rainbow Ride

Bobby Bland – Greatest Hits Vol. Two: The ABC-Dunhill/MCA Recordings

Donny Hathaway – Live

Owsley – The Hard Way

 

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