Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bad Timing

A heartbreakingly lyrical and unflinchingly candid portrayal of a relationship that got derailed by uncontainable circumstances, veteran alt-country rockers Blue Rodeo's "Bad Timing" remains one of the most cherished gems in their shamefully unappreciated back catalogue. This achingly beautiful country ballad easily ranks as one fo the great heartbreak paeans of our time, and effortlessly displays why Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and their mates are one of Canada's most beloved musical institutions. Check out the elliptical, anecdotal video clip, which successfully conveys the song's central message of lost chances and perpetual regret.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Astral Weeks

In many ways, Van Morrison's second album, 1968's phenomenal and masterful "Astral Weeks" marked the absolute pinnacle of all of the veteran Irish singer-songwriter's achievements. Not only was it a startlingly original and daring masterpiece that has been consistently named in innumerable best-album lists, it also proves that such disparate genres like jazz, folk, blues and classical music could be merged into a seamless whole, without any dilution of their base elements. Such was the power and influence of "Astral Weeks" that it has been famously claimed that influential director Martin Scorsese had based the entire first half of his harrowing epic "Taxi Driver" on this magnum opus.

The truly transcendental title track starts things off appropriately, a mystical stream-of-consciousness travelogue that features some of Morrison's trademark scatting, and anchored by Richard Davis's reliable upright bass. The following "Beside You" is a tenderly dreamy, beautifully blue ballad that is remarkably free from any rhythmic moorings, while "Sweet Thing" moves along by virtue of a stately string arrangement.

The intensely cinematic "Cyprus Avenue" is an almost feverish recollection of Morrison's childhood in Belfast, an effortless blend of esoteric Celtic mysticism and good old-fashioned rock and roll values that somehow work rather well, despite the seemingly incongruent components. The brief but forceful "The Way Young Lovers Do" boasts a big-band backdrop to frame its tale of two lovers in summertime Ireland, while the extended, portentous-sounding character sketch "Madame George" is haunting in its evocation of things passed.

And finally, the two tunes that comprise the home run of the album are both appropriate as bookends to what has passed before. The impossibly elegant "Ballerina" glides along with the help of a pensive-sounding xylophone foundation, and the disconsolate "Slim Slow Slider" is a simplistic, blues-inflected number that simmers with a quiet, anguished passion.

In short, "Astral Weeks" has not lost one iota of its initial lustre and commanding energy, and remains one of the most important records in the history of 20th-century music. Even though Morrison has not produced any following works that are quite on par with it, he can rest assured that he has long ago stamped a distinctive place in musical history with its release, way back in those hazy days of the late 1960s. Wholly impressionistic, thoroughly effective and a bona fide musical epiphany, "Astral Weeks" truly comprises a rock-solid testament to Morrison's enduring artistry.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sunday Morning

A deceptively quiet but overwhelmingly despairing anecdote of a heroin addict's inevitable comedown, the Velvet Underground's atmopsheric "Sunday Morning" remains one of the bleakest, most unflinching evocations of desperation and loneliness ever recorded. This seminal track meshes extremely well with the stark, desolate moods conjured up by legendary realist painter Edward Hooper's strikingly original paintings. In this masterful montage, the song soundtracks a collection of Hopper's more well-known works, effectively conveying an overall effect of existential loneliness, ennui and mournfulness in a callous, unforgiving world.