No Hits 4.24.06
No Hits was designed to highlight a newish song on heavy rotation. But often as not, the track that's got me in its grip is a back catalogue number. Lately, I've been playing catch-up with Eric Bachmann, former frontman of Archers of Loaf and, since the late 90s, Crooked Fingers. Like a lot of Archers fans, I was thrown off by his sharp left turn into Latin-inflected gothic Americana. Overnight, Bachmann seemed to age 20 years, becoming this gruff old man spinning hopeless narratives about lost women and broken drunks. When you've come to expect high-strung angularity and diatribes against the record industry, this takes some getting used to. But once you do, you realize Bachmann's always-idiosyncratic songwriting has probably found its home. Dignity and Shame (US, UK) is especially worth the time.
What's captured my affection this week, though, isn't an original but a cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" off Crooked Fingers' 2002 Reservoir Songs EP (US, UK). As soon as Bachmann's grizzled baritone delivers that great opening passage "Melinda was mine/Til the time that I found her/Holding Jim/Loving Him," you think, now here's a man born to sing Neil Diamond! It's not that Bachmann's voice bears a similar timber or that it assumes Diamond's phrasing--though it does--but that these vocals fall so neatly in step with the sad, resigned declaration of independence of the original. The covers' instrumentation, on the other hand, is anything but imitative. Crooked Fingers trades the original's full brass section, backing chorus and busy guitar lines for an austere banjo, bleating organ and oomph-pahing euphonium. The euphonium, in particular, transforms a merely melancholy song into a funereal one--a song to dig a plot to or accompany a slow, solemn death march into the hills. "Solitary Man" is a cover that wrestles with competing impulses--pop song/folk song, lush/spare, celebration/dirge--and as it draws you into its agon, it is profoundly unnerving.
Andalucia - Crooked Fingers
Red Devil Dawn (live) - Crooked Fingers
Wrong - Archers of Loaf
Elsewhere, around the Web:
The House of Leaf and Lime has a fantastic track from San Francisco band, The Herms.
Eric from CYSTSFTS releases his first podcast, "From punk to parenthood."
Field Music makes Write Your Own History available exclusively on iTunes (US, UK & Canada) and Field Music's label Memphis Industries offers for free the It Came From Memphis sampler on eMusic (good stuff!).
And from Slate, if you're in the mood to be disgusted (a tour of London's sewers).