In Defense of “Hot Legs” (sort of): Kelsey Pierson Reports

While Rod Stewart is completely washed up and has been reduced to recording the tenth-thousandth installment of “The Great Amercan Songbook,” his early recordings are damn good.

What I love about is the fact that it seems like he just sat down in his living room with a bunch of people who played instruments and said “I’m going to sing this Bob Dylan song, you play like this, and I’ll sing like that.” It’s all very organic for being an album that was wheeled out like a Kelly Clarkson album is today. It’s intimate, while being poppy enough to sell a lot of copies.

The guitars are always very open. Whoever is playing allows the instrument do it’s own thing and allows for the chords to ring out and carry while Stewart’s voice is almost restrained by his signature rasp. Both create a beautiful soft and hard blend. Here are a few essential and somewhat popular Rod Stewart tracks and why I love them so:

1. “Every Picture Tells A Story” (1970) – One of the feelings I get from this song is the idea of a beginning. Sure, the young man in the song is recounting his travels around the world, but the overall feel of the song reminds me of a guy who sloppily rolled out of bed and decided to change his life. The drums sound like a little kid haphazardly jumping into puddles after a hot summer rain while the steam rises from the sidewalk. The song is epic like the best Hollywood box office busters, and it’s really all because of the drums. It almost sounds like the guy doesn’t really know how to play, and the whole song sounds like at any second it could just stop working. It teeters on a slippery slope. Listen to for Stewart to come in too early at 3:47.

2. “Gasoline Alley” (1969) – This is a driving song. Although pretty much any song with the word “ride” or certainly “gasoline” would be an essential track on any driving mix, “Gasoline Alley” is a bit of a different animal. It’s not just a song about the journey like most great driving songs are, but about the longing for the destination. Stewart and the guitarist melt together into a song about wayfaring. Plus there’s a mandolin part, which sort of adds to the troubadour effect to the song, and the vocals kind of fade out during the last minute of the song, creating the effect that he made it back to Gasoline Alley and is walking away from the song.

3. “Mama, You Been on My Mind” (1971) – I can’t figure out if the woman he’s speaking to in this song is his mother, his girlfriend, or even a short-term lover. A rare Bob Dylan gem, the lyrics are sort of adorable, and whatever the relationship was, the overall message of “Mama, You Been on My Mind” simply spells out that no matter what kind of relationship this elusive mama had with the narrator, he’s thinking about her and seems apologetic that it didn’t work out. As friends often say to me “it is what it is,” and that is the note that Stewart’s performance leaves with me.

What I’ve been spinning…4/8/08

Jay Reatard – Blood Visions – Fifteen short, spaz-tastic guitar jams. Very DIY. It makes me want to pick up my guitar again. Make sure you get a look at the album cover – it’s gross and excellent at the same time.

R.E.M. – Accelerate – On the first spin, I really didn’t get all the buzz about this being their comeback record. It just sounded kind of…well, plain. On the way home from work the other day, I put it on again and I was pleasantly surprised. Not a classic by any means, but it’s a fun, buoyant listen.

Jamie Lidell – Jim – The best white guy in the game doing faux-soul right now. Poppy, playful and overall a great listen.

Jay Reatard – Blood Visions

R.E.M. – Living Well is the Best Revenge

Jamie Lidell – Another Day

Jim Derogatis leaks Lolla Lineup! Partially…

This lineup is ridiculous. It’s only partial, but it’s off the charts. Here’s the list so far.

Radiohead
Nine Inch Nails
Wilco
Rage Against The Machine
Kanye West
Gnarls Barkley
Black Keys
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
G. Love and the Special Sauce
Blues Traveler
Mates of State
Bloc Party
Cat Power
Stephen Malkmus
Girl Talk
Kid Sister
Office
The Cool Kids
Battles
The Go! Team
Jamie Lidell
Grizzly Bear

…At the same time, sorta reminds me of the ’06 lineup…

Here is the article from his Sun-Times blog.

What I’ve been spinning…3/30/08

The Hold Steady – Live in Austin 3/27/08 – So? I’m in a rut! This is a live show from earlier this week. Kind of a mini departure for the group – short on talk, more on rock. Set opens with the new cut (and sure to be summer anthem) ‘Constructive Summer’. Well worth checking out. If you haven’t seen these guys yet, I implore you to do so. It will be the best concert experience of your year.

Low – Things We Lost In The Fire – Super quiet, deeply meditative record. Absolutely stunning. Just don’t listen to it in the middle of night like I did. A bit creepy.

Mike Watt – Contemplating The Engine Room – Mike Watt’s become my hero recently. Touted as his ‘punk rock opera’, this album is autobiographical and spans his entire career. It’s certainly quirky – Watt’s ‘old man’ vocals and basslines make for an interesting combo. Also, Wilco’s Nels Cline plays guitar throughout.

The Hold Steady – Hot Soft Light (Live in Austin 3/27/08)

Low – Sunflower

Mike Watt – The Boilerman