Search results for 'brilliant songs'

Brilliant Songs #15: Bill Morrissey’s “Birches”

There are songs you hear in passing, once, twice, five times, before you notice your ears have been perking up a bit more on each listen, and you finally ask yourself, “So just who and what is that, anyway?”

Other songs gobsmack you on first hearing, leaving you speechless and sputtering, mainlining a message and melody like an electric current, perfectly wedding a voice with a lyric and painting a picture with such crystalline detail and depth of feeling as to leave you shook to your core, knowing you just heard something great, and will want to hear it a lot more.

The late Bill Morrissey’s “Long Gone” is the first type of song, which I’d heard a number of times over months from another room where my sweetheart had it on her playlist while doing yoga (no sacred Hindu chants for her), and I finally asked her about it...

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Brilliant Songs #14: Mickey Guyton’s “Black Like Me”

Back in 1951, the publication of John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me” landed like a bomb on American culture. Griffin was a white man who had spent months working with his dermatologist to turn his skin black before setting out on a bold odyssey from his New Orleans home through the deep South. His intention was to experience first-hand what it would feel like to be a black person in Jim Crow America. The result was a stark, shattering testimony to the virulent racism still prevailing in American life nearly a century after the Emancipation Proclamation. The book’s power resonates to this day.

So much so that country singer Mickey Guyton, one of the few African Americans navigating the sometimes treacherous shoals of her genre with its predominantly white artists and audiences, had it very much in mind when releasing her song of the same title just weeks ago...

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Brilliant Songs #13: Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia”

The best music always crawls right under your skin, raising a few goosebumps along the way as it wends its way in short order to your heart. And so it was the first time I came across Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia,” on an LP I picked up used in a dusty music store in Santa Monica, California just about a half-century ago.

I’d taken a music appreciation class in college, inspired partly by my mother, who grew up around classical music in her native Hungary and had exposed me to it along with Nat King Cole and a few other stalwarts of the era. So I had taken to scouring music stores to score used albums that looked intriguing enough to justify the fifty cents or dollar they would set me back.

I remember getting the Sibelius back home to play on my $99 record player (with detachable wired speakers!), and being absolutely floored by its beauty, the lush evocative melodies taking me through heights and...

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Brilliant Songs #12: Laura Smith’s “My Bonny”

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
—From T.S. Eliot’s “The Sacred Wood” (1920)

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When writers and critics cite T.S. Eliot’s maxim above, they often stop with the deadpan funniest/cheeky part: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” It’s a great line, suggesting a mirthful larceny far at odds with the preternatural sobriety and moral seriousness of Eliot’s best-known works—“Four Quartets” and “The Wasteland” perhaps premier among them.

But the maxim’s second part elaborates a valuable guidepost for how all writers and artists should approach and pay homage to the history of their craft.

What Eliot suggests at a much deeper level is that no artist creates in isolation, without standing on the shoulders of all who have struggled in the same way t...

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Brilliant Songs #11: Chris Smither’s “Time Stands Still”

Waiting for the consummate rootsy-bluesy singer-songwriter Chris Smither to come on stage last weekend at Durham’s Blue Note Grill, we greeted our friend Michael the Sound Board Guy, who noted with a kind of respect-just-this-side-of-awe in his voice that the packed crowd was absolutely crawling with local musicians. Little wonder, given the “musician’s musician” label that Smither, now 76, has earned over a half-century of crafting songs that combine lyrical depth, humor, virtuoso guitar picking and a driving beat he keeps going with the slightly amplified foot-tapping that serves as his own rhythm section.

“I can’t not do it,” he once told an interviewer regarding his footwork, which involves both feet, heel and toe, tapping out the often syncopated rhythms that are but one of the qualities that give his music its distinct, “Oh, that must be Chris Smither” feel.

But as good as the pur...

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