Lamya — “Empires”
(from Learning From Falling) —
A was incommunicado for a large portion of the week — go figya this: turns out Alaskan glaciers and cellular reception aren’t such a cozy couple — but he did check in with a photo dispatch near the state’s famed Mount McKinley, which Wikipedia tells me is, at a mere 20,237 feet above sea level, the highest peak in North America, and which A reports can only be seen in full (read: not shrouded by clouds) around thirty percent of the year. I betcha no Palin ever taught y’all any of this information, so I am perfectly happy to consider this paragraph my public service for the day. (Luckily for all of us — up to and including our two dogs, who have missed him maniacally in his ten-day absence — A is coming back home to Texas tomorrow, and we’ll be able to put this entire episode far behind us.)
The Chemical Brothers (featuring Noel Gallagher) —
“Setting Sun” (from Dig Your Own Hole) —
Whilst most of the rest of us char to a crisp down here in the steamy contiguous forty-eight, that crazy fool A is spending his week fighting for his very survival in an Outward Bound-style group trek through the wilds of Alaska. I’m still a bit fuzzy on the full details of his adventure — let’s invite him to chime in through this post’s comments section if he wishes to elaborate further — but from what I’ve been able to gather, he is basically tasked with climbing mountains, clawing his way across glaciers and other profoundly frozen plots of earth, and trying like hell not to become the easy prey of a famished moose. He texted his first pictorial dispatch just prior to midnight last Thursday evening, and as you can see for yourself in the stunning image just below this paragraph, when you hear someone refer to Alaska as the land of the midnight sun, you’ll now know they ain’t pulling your leg.
James Taylor — “On the Fourth of July”
(from October Road) —
Happy 4th, y’all. The Buzz hopes your holiday weekend is progressing most excellently.
Shawn Colvin — “When the Rainbow Comes”
(from Armageddon: The Album) —
Seven days have passed since the Supreme Court demolished all barriers to true marriage equality from coast to coast, and surprise surprise, the republic somehow still stands in spite of such runaway judicial activism. (Dreadful sorry, Ted Cruz.) The image below remains one of the most arresting to emerge from Pride 2015, and seems likely to become central to the iconography of the evolving new normal in this millenium’s defining civil rights battle. True colors rarely shine more radiantly.
R.E.M. — “Lotus” (from Up) —
Heads up, R.E.Maniacs: Rhino has just released on DVD and Blu-ray the brilliant R.E.M. by MTV, an extraordinary full-length documentary — comprised solely of existing interview and performance footage and music video clips which were painstakingly unearthed and culled from deep within the vast vaults of MTV’s various domestic and international networks — which presents the entire story of the band in its warts-and-all entirety, from their humble beginnings playing Georgia dives, to their ascension to icon status among the college radio set, to their explosive success as Top 40 tastemakers. The gripping, gorgeously curated film premiered across MTV’s sundry television platforms late last fall, and has heretofore only been commercially available as part of the more comprehensive REMTV, a wondrously sprawling six-DVD treasure trove which also includes both of the band’s legendary appearances on MTV Unplugged, their VH1 Storytellers performance, and any number of other archival gems from three full decades of rock pioneerdom. If you’re a shameless Stipe stan like me and you let this one pass you by in the holiday crush last fall, time to play catch-up. Take it from someone who finally watched it just last weekend: you’ll be in ecstasy long before the first act finishes.
Lisa Stansfield — “All Around the World”
(from Biography: The Greatest Hits) —
Via a press release in my email last week, I was quite excited to learn that my fierce, flawless Lisa Stansfield is blessedly returning to record stores in September with a new two-disc live album, the news of which compelled me to immediately fire off an email to her publicity team begging for an interview for Brandon’s Buzz Radio. (This same PR firm helped me wrangle an interview with the one and only Meat Loaf a number of years ago, so I’m feeling pretty good about my odds in this endeavor.) Watch this space for more developments on that front whilst you enjoy the coolly seductive slice of pop perfection that carried La Stansfield to global superstardom exactly a quarter of a century ago. (I was stunned just now, scanning the Buzz archives, to discover that Miss Lisa has not one time in five years popped out of the Hive’s speakers, and that’s just shameful. Consider that error now officially corrected.)
Bob Schneider — “Let the Light In” (from Perfect Day) —
It is an awful, wonderful beast, this nation, this country which — quite literally — was founded with the words We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. Rights truly are unalienable and certain in this awful, wonderful behemoth of a republic that our forefathers created and that our fathers — indeed, my father — fought to maintain. What the Court affirmed on Friday, ultimately, is the notion that when we decide to cast an entire subset of Americans’ rights to the swirling winds of fate and/or to the shifting whims of a popular vote, then — sooner or later — every American’s right to do, or say, or be, or live, or pursue happiness in whichever way they choose to is bound to be tossed up for grabs.
It is an awful, wonderful nation that is governed by humans with distinctly human foibles, but it is a nation whose history nonetheless nearly always — to steal a saying from the sages — bends toward justice, and toward fair, and toward right.
Takes a little longer than we might like sometimes, but love always conquers.
There are days when identifying as a gay man, a gay Texan, a gay American plainly sucks. Happily, today is not one of those days. Today, I am equal.
Kelly Willis — “Don’t Know Why”
(from Translated From Love) —
Sherry Ann will tell you that any and every day is a good day to blast some Kelly, but this being SA’s birthday makes it feel like a particularly apropos occasion. (Happy birthday, Sherry Ann; the Buzz hopes you’re living it up wherever you currently find yourself!)
Genesis — “I Can’t Dance” (from R-Kive) —
“Progressive rock bands, according to their fans, are supposed to stop about two albums into progressing and progress no more. . . . I think the secret to Genesis’ longevity is that they are the progressive rock band who progressed. And that’s why they’ve survived.”
— British comedian (and rabid Genesis fan) Al Murray, simply shedding light on the band’s four-decade-plus status as one of the world’s pre-eminent rock bands, at the end of Genesis: Sum of the Parts, a riveting documentary that premiered on cable’s Showtime last November. (Parts has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray and includes candid, no-holds-barred interviews with all the band’s principals — including Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, and even Peter Gabriel, who split from the band in a hellacious huff in the late 1970s before embarking on one of the most magnificent solo careers in music history — and is exceedingly worthy of a couple of hours of your time. As, for that matter, is the album linked above: R-Kive, a first-of-its-kind three-disc, thirty-seven-track compendium of the greatest of Genesis’ hits alongside hits and highlights from Collins’ and Gabriel’s ravishing solo work, plus selections from Rutherford’s hit-making side gig Mike + the Mechanics. Taken as one, a veritable Genesis-inspired abbondanza awaits you, people.)
Tegan and Sara (featuring The Lonely Island) —
“Everything is Awesome!!!”
(from The Lego® Movie [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]) —
Conventional wisdom has it that “Glory” — Common and John Legend’s moving anthem which they co-composed for the film Selma — is the front-runner to nab the Academy Award for Best Original Song this evening. And while that result wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest, I can’t help but find myself rooting for The Lego Movie‘s gloriously goofy “Awesome” to nab the Oscar tonight, because a) Tegan and Sara are involved, and Tegan and Sara are — no pun intended — everything as far as the Buzz is concerned, even when all they’re doing is singing such an electrically innocuous earworm such as this; and b) despite — or, perhaps, because of — its hilariously bent, wickedly subversively adult tone, Lego was inexplicably left out of the running in the Best Animated Feature derby, leaving “Awesome” as the only opportunity for Academy voters who are passionate about the uproariously funny film (of which I choose to believe there exist many) to honor it. “Everything” is awesome, possums.
Idina Menzel — “River” (from Holiday Wishes) —
Robert Downey Jr. (with Vonda Shepard) — “River”
(from Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas) —
Joni Mitchell — “River” (from Hits) —
Miss Idina landed a knockout blow last night on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, with a beautifully restrained take on one of the Buzz’s all-time favorite Christmas chestnuts: Joni Mitchell’s wrenching “River,” the obligatory sad song of choice for many a holiday mixtape, you can be sure. Despite her booming voice and soaring range (and despite the fact that she was ostensibly on the program to sell some records), Menzel gets beaucoup bonus points for choosing, largely, to undersing the song, allowing the tune’s simple elegance to emerge by not overloading the lyric with thrills and trills. (Much as I love her, you can bet neither Celine Dion nor any other diva of her caliber would be so moderate in her approach.) My favorite cover of this Joni classic remains Robert Downey Jr.’s gorgeously gruff version — which he performed on Fox’s one-time signature series Ally McBeal when he was a member of its cast in one of its misbegotten, past-its-prime later seasons — but last night’s staggering performance (which you can check out in the video embedded below) instantly makes Idina’s effort a riveting runner-up.
(PS: As for Queen Joni, she’s creating a stir all her own this season with Love Has Many Faces, a spankin’-new four-disc box set of hits and favorites from her forty-year career, including “River” and “A Case of You” (the latter of which would easily in the upper echelon of my list of the greatest songs in the history of ever), all stunningly remastered for the first time in years. If this thing isn’t at the very top of your Christmas list this year, joo are a fool.)
Whitney Houston — “The Star-Spangled Banner”
(from Whitney – The Greatest Hits) —
Two hundred years ago today — September 14, 1814 — while temporarily imprisoned on a British warship in the Chesapeake Bay as Baltimore’s Fort McHenry was under siege, a Maryland lawyer by the name of Francis Scott Key, inspired by the sight of the American flag still waving in the wind after a brutal night of battle, penned the words that became our National Anthem. And on a crisp January night in 1991, just before the commencement of the twenty-fifth Super Bowl and just ten days into the first of what would become a series of Mideast military skirmishes (this one a battle against Iraq for Kuwait’s sanctity in the Persian Gulf), the wondrously glorious Whitney Houston cemented her reputation as the greatest voice of her generation with a thrilling, thunderous performance of those very words. You don’t have to be particularly patriotic to appreciate the brilliance of the contents of the grainy video below, but as a way to mark such a significant milestone — especially given that we as a nation seem once again to be inevitably marching to war in a hostile land whose methods and mores we are never going to alter in any meaningful way, whether we foist one bomb upon them or one hundred — it bears noting that nobody has ever (or, likely, will ever) sung our song’s lyrics with more passion, more purpose, and more grace. Happy 200th birthday to The Star-Spangled Banner.
Madonna — “Vogue” (from Celebration) —
This fascinating factoid churned pretty quickly through the Twittersphere, so you’d be forgiven for having missed it entirely, but just in case you, like me, were fourteen in 1990 and are given to enjoy a bit of useless trivia: Slate.com tells us that, with last week’s unfortunate passing of Lauren Bacall (at age 90), all sixteen of the pop cultural icons and legends, almost all of whom were scions of Old Hollywood balls and beauty, that Miss Madonna name-checked during the thrilling climax of this instant-classic turn-of-a-decade smash — a loving, gorgeously etched homage to the movie-star era — have now shuffled off of this mortal coil. Seems a fair bet that we’ll never see the likes of Bacall and those broads ever again, and Miley and her cabal of tartlets could take a comprehensive lesson or two from their grit and grace. True glamour rarely sounded so glorious. Rest in peace, Betty. (Incidentally, if you’d care to do further reading — both on this tune and the rest of Madonna’s hit-filled career, before and after — I put together a playlist of her best-known pop classics in April 2010, and you can find that piece by clicking right cheer.)