Plays Of The Week
Tomorrow is Monday. No matter how good or bad your weekend was, tomorrow is Monday. It’s been too many decades – far more than I would care to mention – since I left school, but the tendency to malinger on Monday mornings still lingers in me every time that first working day of the week looms ahead, precisely, invariably and without exception. So to dull the blow of Monday mornings, I try to put together a playlist for my commute to work, something to make it easier to get back to the grind. Last week, I surveyed my latest haul of albums, songs and podcasts and zeroed in on something that I hoped would be a good antidote to the Monday morning blues, the new Best Coast album, The Only Place.
It was a good choice. Best Coast are a band from Los Angeles, California, who make music that is easy on the ears. I’d heard their first album, Crazy for You, a couple of years back and had quite liked the somewhat fuzzy, lo-fi sound and catchy songs with lyrics that weren’t taxing or profound. Crazy for You was full of endearing songs, sung very well by Bethany Consentino in her nice and warm-sounding voice. The other member of the band, Bobb Bruno, is a multi-instrumentalist who creates music that may not put the band in the virtuoso category but makes it quite pleasing to listen to. On that first album, together (the duo enlists other musicians, notably a drummer to complete the band) they made music that was instantly appealing.
On The Only Place, the second full-length album from Best Coast, the band’s songs are still catchy, the general mood sunny – on songs such as the eponymous The Only Place, of course, which makes a case for California (I presume) as being, um, the only place to be, but even on songs that have sadder lyrics, such as Why I Cry. Choosing Best Coast’s new album for the Monday morning playlist was a good idea. This time around they have changed things a bit. The music is less fuzzy and sharper. Consentino’s voice still resonates warmly and – this one’s good for a Monday morning – you still don’t have to use your head too much to make sense of the lyrics (viz We’ve got the ocean, got the babes/ Got the sun, we’ve got the waves/ This is the only place for me. Nary a cerebral syllable there!).
And yet, I was bored by the time the 11-song, 34-minute album wound down. There is a certain same-ness in the new Best Coast album that gets to you despite its short duration. The sunniness is fine but the lyrics can suck over time. That’s when I opted for another new album. This time it was Dr John’s latest, Locked Down. Dr John (real name: Mac Rebbenack) is a legendary New Orleans boogie-woogie, R&B and soul singing pianist whose career peaked many years back but has plateaued since then. Till the Ohio-based The Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach decided to collaborate and produce his latest album.
The collaboration began earlier, really, when Auerbach and Dr John played together at last year’s Bonnaroo festival. This was followed by Auerbach persuading the Nola musician to get into the studio with him. It is an odd collaboration – Dr John is known for his Mardi Gras-tinged flamboyance and his music is stamped with the typically New Orleans’ flavoured good-time spirit, while Auerbach is known for his anti-rock star low profile and his band plays minimalist blues. Besides, Dr John is 71 and Auerbach 32.
But what an album they’ve created together! According to the accounts that I’ve read, The Black Keys’ guitarist prevailed upon the veteran musician to adopt a slightly more improvisational approach to making the album rather than coming for recordings with his usual practice of bringing in pre-written music and songs.
This has resulted in a deliciously unpredictable collection of 10 songs on which both the musicians depart from what they do in their day jobs. Auerbach’s low fidelity minimal blues rock and Dr John’s New Orleanian boogie-woogie are replaced with a polished, multi-layered sound that involves old organs, vibraphones, often muted yet occasionally flashy guitar riffs and lyrics that address everything – from post-Katrina New Orleans to downright political issues, as on the song Revolution.
Locked Down is a funky, gritty, blues and R&B album that will keep you asking for more. On a Monday morning commute, it’s what paired beautifully with what I started with, Best Coast. If the Californians helped ease me into the beginning of the week, the Ohio bluesman and the legend from New Orleans promised to make the week a rocker. Now, to wait and see how the next seven days unfold.