Lo Carmen, New Album “Lovers, Dreamers, Fighters” (out Nov 10, 2017)
by Lo Carmen
Part of getting ready to record every album involves going deep into listening and thinking hard on what makes for a great album. I start looking for secrets in the grooves, like ‘how many songs is the perfect amount?’ (the answer: 10, usually), ‘What’s the best feeling to start an album?’ ‘Did they record fast or slow’ ‘How long should an album be?’ … and on and on … and then of course you let it all go and just record whatever comes, but I think there’s something solid and helpful in having a strong foundation of knowing what you love and what you’re striving for. Here are five of the many albums I immersed myself in before recording.
THE GRAND TOUR – George Jones 1974
Eleven tracks, George only co-wrote one of them. Who cares? He more than makes them all his own. And he looks so damn handsome on the cover of this one, it’s just the perfect package.
The devastating opening lines of the title track delivered in George’s quavering, velvety baritone followed by the aching steel, the piano licks, the killer lyrics, Billy Sherrill’s subtle, tasty instrumentation and the elegant backing vocals from The Jordanaires set the stage for a pure Nashville album of elegiac odes to a woman who obviously doesn’t deserve his love.
That kind of country cleverness that couches dreadful truths in ‘bumpkin’ sentiment throughout most of the tracks only makes it hit harder. ‘She’ll Love The One She’s With’, ‘She Told Me So’, ‘Who Will I Be Loving Now?’ and the half adorable/half heartbreaking paean to the former town ‘goodtime girl’ turned George’s girl (or is she?) “She Don’t Go Round No More’ all make you want to sit in a corner of a bar feeding a jukebox for the rest of your life. Leonard Cohen is on record saying he would like ‘The Grand Tour’ played at his funeral. I wrote a song called ‘I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell’ for my album as if I was writing it for George to sing on this…. a girl can dream!
Though this album is over in under 30 minutes, it packs a punch that lasts a lifetime.
JOLENE – Dolly Parton 1974
There’s a rustic simplicity, pathos, and tenderness to all the songs (even the couple of filler tracks such as ‘Randy’ and ‘It Must Be You’’). Five of the tracks on this ten song album – all except two written by Dolly alone – were recorded at RCA’s “Nashville Sound” Studios in one session on Boxing Day 1973, which is incredible considering it’s packed full of stone cold classics like ‘Lonely Comin’ Down’, ‘Living On Memories Of You’ and of course, her signature tunes ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’. Bob Ferguson’s production is magnificently detailed but subtle and all the players are so sympathetic to the songs – there’s a guitar plucked teardrop at the end of the chorus in Lonely Comin’ Down’ that never fails to break my heart and the intro to ‘Early Morning Breeze’ is a sublime groove. Dolly’s voice is so expressive, full of little breaks and catches and swoops making for an utterly lovely and moving album.
EASE DOWN THE ROAD – Bonnie Prince Billy 2001
This album has it all in spades, and it just keeps on giving with repeated listens. It’s sexy as hell, laugh out loud funny, poetic, melodic, tender and pretty, full of warmth, wit, and wisdom. With slicker kind of production, the gorgeous ‘After I Made Love To You’ could easily be a hit for a mainstream country artist, except perhaps for lines about ‘doing something filthy’ and ‘bodies attacking’. ‘Just To See My Holly Home’, ‘A King At Night’ and title track ‘Ease On Down The Road’ are all just absolute crackers. The Bonnie Prince is in such fine voice on this album too. An entertaining, eloquent and enduring album that never fails to draw me inside, and a masterclass in feel and songwriting. Twelve songs fit for a king.
ASTRAL WEEKS – Van Morrison 1968
What I love most about this is the feel of this album, where Van’s voice and Richard Davis’ extraordinarily beautiful double bass, provide the bones and everyone else just dances wildly around them. I was not surprised to learn that Van told the musicians to just play whatever they wanted. That’s the beauty of surrounding yourself with amazing players and then just letting them take your songs somewhere else. I was also not surprised to discover the whole album was recorded in two eight hour sessions, everyone playing at the same time, no rehearsal, with a couple of overdub sessions for strings and horns. I’ve always felt that albums that are recorded with complete focus like that make for the wildest, most truthful and resonant albums.
But aside from the great feel and recording techniques, there are the songs! ‘Cyprus Ave’ and ‘Madame George’ just place you smack in the middle of somewhere and take you for a real ride, lyrically, emotionally and musically, and I have read that Van says they were both ‘stream of consciousness’ type compositions. I love to write like that, to just close my eyes and sing away until I’m eventually lost for words, and then go back and edit it down into a manageable piece.
‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ is a masterpiece of racing pulses and beating hearts – the intersecting strings and horns and bass just take me away, almost making the dramatic romance and poetry of the lyrics secondary.
There’s a lot to be said for the limitations of vinyl keeping an album concise, there are a mere 8 tracks on this album, all written solely by Van Morrison.
NASHVILLE SKYLINE/ – Bob Dylan 1969
Another album where the musicians were just thrown in the deep end and had to just dive in and hang on. Ten tracks, all Dylan’s, recorded fast in a couple of sessions. A hell of a lot of people are supremely disdainful of this album but I always love Dylan when he just refuses to stay in that corner everyone paints him in and goes where no-one wants him to go. This is not an album big on clever poetry or deep mysticism but it has an indescribably free and joyful spirit, a sweet, down home groove and a simple honesty to it that keeps me coming back – ‘I Threw It All Away’, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, ‘To Be Alone With You’ and the deadpan absolute corker ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’ are just perfect tracks. Dylan is quoted as telling Newsweek “the smallest line on this new album means more to me than some of the songs on the previous albums I’ve made.” It always gives me a little thrill when I listen to know that Kris Kristofferson was a janitor at Columbia Studios during this recording, hangin’ round, cleaning ashtrays and looking for opportunities to get a song to someone. There’s a little bit of Nashville magic in that.
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more inspirational albums at the gtc life albums archives