Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Songs and stories

So a while back I posted that I was exploring a storyline involving the British duo Tears for Fears and their vocal and writing collaborators, Oleta Adams and Nicky Holland, so I thought I'd share it here before I move on to other musical interests.

So it started with listening to "Woman in Chains" from Tears for Fears' album, "The Seeds of Love," the follow-up to their smash album, "Songs from the Big Chair" that included hits like "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." The follow-up album was famous for its meticulous production - it reportedly cost more than 1 million pounds to record, a princely sum in the 1980s. You can certainly hear the many layers of instrumentation on this song over the distinctive bass line. Lead singer Roland Orzabal said in an interview that he wrote this song after reading some feminist works and coming to the realization that we all have both masculine and feminine sides, and how the patriarchy caused many men to keep the feminine side hidden.

My favorite part of this song is the guitar chord right before the start of the "So free her" final chorus. I love how that chord has this sort of Horn of Jericho feel to it.

Oleta Adams was singing in a hotel lounge in Kansas City when Tears for Fears found themselves in the audience and were so impressed with her singing that they invited her to come to England to sing on their new album. "Badman's Song" features not only Adams' but also some amazing drumming by Manu Katche (famous for his work with Peter Gabriel and Sting). This long-form song really showcases the complex and intricate song structure of this ambitious album, and a credit to the work of co-writer Nicky Holland.

After her discovery, Oleta Adams released a solo album, "Circle of One" that featured the single "Get Here." This song became popular during the 1991 Gulf War as families of deployed troops in the region embraced the tune as a theme song, similar in the way "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" was for a generation before.

When I noticed that Nicky Holland was the co-writer of the two Tears for Fears songs, I went in search of her music and was lucky enough to find her first self-titled solo album at the used music store near my apartment. My favorite song is "Tongue Tied and Twisted" because, well, we all get tongue-tied at times.

The first and probably only time most people have ever heard Nicky Holland was from her cover of the Dusty Springfield classic, "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" that she did on the soundtrack of the Julia Roberts/Cameron Diaz movie, "My Best Friend's Wedding."

I've been listening to a lot of oldies lately, and especially from Lady Ella and her collaboration with Louis Armstrong. Their duets are described in the liner notes as Ella's voice soaring like a bird high above, while Louis' delivery is earthy and grounded, like a tortoise. One of my favorite cuts from their first of two collaborative album of standards is "The Nearness of You," which was later covered by Norah Jones on her multi-Grammy-winning debut album, "Come Away With Me."

Finally, I love this live version of 'Wichita Skyline" by Shawn Colvin at Lilith Fair. Katie and I were talking once about driving across Texas and this evocative song always makes me think about those long drives I used to make across the Southwest.