Where we plumb the depths of a man’s iPod with unblinking eyes. Remember, when you stare into the playlist, it stares back into you (what?).
1. Marcus Garvey – Sinead O’Connor
This is off her amazing album of reggae covers Throw Down Your Arms, which was one of my favorite albums last year. The arrangements are very traditional, with some of the top session players from that style, very authentic, and she sings her heart out. There’s very little of the whispery, shattered sounding Sinead of old on this record. She’s just singing songs she loves. She is a serious one though, isn’t she? Most of the songs on this collection emphasize reggae’s political bent, rather than its party frat-boy, light up a spliff and relax aspect. Which, one might say, is a balance, but still.
2. There is a Light that Never Goes Out – The Smiths
Morrissey, god love you. This may be my favorite Smiths song of all time. The lyrics are heartfelt, with a sly wit to the mopery (“And if a ten ton truck/ crashes into us/ to die by your side/ what a heavenly way to die”). and the music. When the strings kick in on the chorus, I feel like crying a little. So beautiful. I want to cover this song so much.
3. La Costa Brava – Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
I went through a Ted Leo phase in 2005 and listened to Shake the Sheets until I couldn’t stand it anymore. As I am wont to do, I foisted my obsession of the moment on everyone that I knew, and got, to my surprise, mixed reactions. One listener complained that “all the songs started to sound the same.” What? How could they? But in listening to the new Ted Leo album, I understand what they meant. On this album, anyway, the songs do sound remarkably similar, if they make an impression at all. Shake the Sheets still rules, though, but this one, not so much.
4. There is a Reason – Alison Krauss and Union Station
This one’s the gospel tune she does on every Union Station album, usually penned by her banjo player, Ron Block. A very pretty tune, foreswearing the world and its treasures for the rewards of heaven. When I was rocking Christianity pretty hard, this tune moved me deeply. It’s still very pretty, but it’s almost as if I’m looking at a TV show I used to enjoy when I was a kid. There’s a certain nostalgia (one of my most damning vices) to the whole thing, a wistful longing, remembering the simplicity of belief. I mean, I still believe, I just believe a whole lot of other things, too...
5. Sitting in Limbo – Jimmy Cliff
Must be reggae day on Scott’s iPod, right? Love this one, too. Jimmy Cliff has a very pure singing voice, with uplifting lyrics and a sense of redemption in even the saddest lyrics. One of the reasons I admire reggae so much is that it is a music of belief, without neglecting the earthier aspects of being a human. I’m very attracted to strong belief of any kind, but I’ve found that belief only works through a certain amount of exclusion. Which is all well and good. Magic works as much by what we exclude as what we include. Then it’s just a question of finding a good set of included vs. excluded things, a set that suits you, that you can really get behind. Reggae has some things that I can relate to (earthiness, a connection to the land, to the oppressed, a sense of social justice, use of shamanic plants) and some things I most assuredly cannot (Hallie Sallasie is the Messiah? Really? Oh, and the fact that a number of sects in Rastafarianism believe white men to be the devil. Yeah, there is that).
On a side note, I'm pretty sure that nobody but me really cares about the History of Plunge, so if you're interested, leave a comment, and I'll hook you up.