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So many good songs already in 2018! Here are a few that have caught my ear:

  1. “Summer’s End,” John Prine. He sounds like himself again (yes, I understand there were medical issues) and although it’s been 13 years since an album of his own songs he doesn’t press or overthink it. This one’s a heartbreaker, a man alone in a bed watching the shadows across the ceiling and imploring an absent lover to come back…and as we’ve noted before in songs of this ilk (there’s a million of them) he’d have to actually be talking to her for there to be any hope of action on that front. “You don’t have to be alone,” the singer says to himself, but they both still will be by the end of the song, and the predictable rhymes feel like destiny.
  2. “Roman Cars,” Buffalo Tom. This appears to be a more rocking take on the exact same situation, someone left behind singing to someone gone, singing as Townes Van Zandt said for the sake of the song because the other person’s not around to listen. We are, though, and while I don’t exactly know why “The only time I see your face is when I run a light” evokes a world of loneliness. “You’ll never know how hard I tried,” the singer repeats toward the end, which is something we all say but he convinces me he means it. No “Taillights Fade” but hey, pretty good lo these 30 years on.
  3. “Purple Hearts,” Jeremy Messersmith. Here’s a happier-sounding one, the Left Banke with a beat, though the situation it describes of lovers so battered from past affairs they can’t figure out a way forward with someone new is far from rosy. The cleverness of the lyrics provides some hope: the girl who’s outgrown a thing for West Point graduates, the guy praying this time won’t leave a mark. This much self-awareness has got to indicate some light at the end of the tunnel, right? Actually love the whole album, especially the over-the-top symphonic stuff. It’s encouraging someone is still making music like this. Fingers crossed someone besides me is buying it.

    (Clever lyrics sidenote: was watching a PBS special with Broadway star Sutton Foster last night and she was singing a Cole Porter song about a woman trying to avoid a seduction and this: “My will is strong/But my won’t is weak.” Just wanted to share.)
  4. “The Joke,” Brandi Carlisle. Another big production number and Jesus, that voice! Lyrics have a Belle and Sebastian feel to them, verse 1 a striving boy and verse 2 a striving girl, both being kept down by…well, everything, but Brandi assures them to keep trying, it’s ultimately going to turn out okay. Her evidence for this is shaky–she’s seen some movies that have a happy ending–but the way she sings that line “I have been to the movies” gives me goosebumps.
  5. “Whistle on Occasion,” Kim Richey and Chuck Prophet. We’ll close out with a happy song, or at least one of acceptance: “I count my blessings when I find them.” It’s a folky stroll sort of song, the two voices winding together with the offhand familiarity of friends talking at a baseball game and the lyrics spontaneous and conversational: “Got my hands in my pocket and my feet on the ground/I might whistle on occasion when there’s no one else around.” Actually, I could imagine John Prine writing that line.