03 June 2009

jamming: Roman Candle- Oh Tall Tree In The Ear

Track listing:
1. Eden Was a Garden
2. One More Road
3. Why Modern Radio is A-Ok
4. They Say
5. Big Light
6. Sonnet 46
7. Heartbeat, A
8. Woke Up This Morning
9. I Was a Fool
10. Starting From Scratch
11. Early Aubade

I must say that this release was a very gratifying offering of great fun. I would describe Roman Candle not in "sort of a poor man's ______" terms but rather as a local version of _______ (josh ritter, dylan, wilco, whiskeytown, etc...). This description is useful not just because they happen to be local, but because "local" (at least around here) connotes something of a romance and a charm not evident in larger, further-off, or more well-known entities. This romance pervades the entire album, starting with the title (taken from the opening of the following Rilke sonnet).
Tree arising! O pure ascendance!
Orpheus Sings! Towering tree within the ear!
Everywhere stillness, yet in this abeyance:
seeds of change and new beginnings near.
Another facet of RC's charm includes the other pole of Skip's wit. He seemlessly spans the worlds of high poetry/art and the grit and grime of back roads jukebox honkey tonk. "Modern Radio" (perhaps the most standout of tracks), puts this deftness on display. Comically and unpretentiously we are fed the narrative of love loss through the lens of a standard jukebox tears-in-beers encounter with a "buddy out on parole." The brilliance comes in the assertion that modern radio's acceptance lies precisely in its utter incapacity to hurt, thrill, or remind. This is the stuff of great commentary and fantastic wordplay wrapped in the package of a foot-tapping folk song.
I was down at my favorite watering hole
with a buddy of mine that was out on parole
and we were flipping through the jukebox,
talking how we'd been and how we are.

He'd got a library card and he'd pierced his tongue
and a buddy in prison had turned him onto Neil Young
and he thought that it'd be best to play some for the entire bar.

Now he didn't know, but while he was in jail,
I'd had my heart broken by a woman to wondrous to tell
and we'd fallen in love to half the songs that jukebox played.

So when he flattened his dollar on the side of the machine
and I saw "Comes a Time" come on the karaoke screen
I knew there was a couple things I had forgot to say:

Don't play Neil Young
Don't play Van Morrison
Just let some high school emo band start versing and chorusing
Because there's no way it will break my heart as far as I can see
and that's why modern radio is A OK with me.

He said a pop song used to be a powerful thing,
you could turn on the a.m. and John Lennon would sing
or Frank Sinatra would be talking to all of the girls.

And you could think like a hawk or think like a dove
or think of a winter afternoon when you fell in love
and ten songs on a record sounded like a string of pearls.

Now my buddy rattled on till an hour'd gone by
and I thought to spit a mouthful of beam in his eye,
maybe leave him for dead, but a friend is a friend to stay.

So I listened to him talk about Johnny and June
And how "I don't know where I stand" is a true love tune
I bought another round just in time to hear him say:

They don't play Sam Cooke
They don't play Merle Watson
They just trade some Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham for a broke-down Datsun.
And there's no way it'll break my heart as far as I can see -
And that's why modern radio is a sack of monkeys to me.

He said it makes me so mad I want to get up and shout it
and I smiled and said I hadn't thought that much about it
We walked out the street and parted ways.

I might've gone to a movie, but my money was spent
so I went straight home, and Lord knows where he went
but I wrote myself a letter to all modern dj's:

Don't play Bob Dylan
Don't play "Loose Ends"
Don't play anybody that's ever read Sir Patrick Spens
Because there's no way it'll break my heart as far as I can see -
And that's why modern radio is a-ok with me.

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