wears the trousers magazine


wears the trousers albums of the decade #100-76

part twopart three | part four

As other people have already noted, among the rash of lists proclaiming the best albums and artists of the ’00s, the majority all had one thing in common: a distinct and depressing lack of albums by solo female artists and by female-fronted bands. We had anticipated a representation rate of between 20% and 30%, but it turned out to be even lower. NME and Rolling Stone awarded a lousy 12–15% of spots to women, and even Paste magazine, who often champion many of the artists Wears The Trousers holds dear, could barely scrape 14%.

In mid-November, eight Wears The Trousers writers and editors gathered around a table at the Candid Arts Centre in Islington, where we spent a long afternoon debating the 300+ nominations for albums of the decade gathered from all our contributors. More than six hours later, we had come up with a rough outline of the 100 albums we thought were worthy of championing. Inevitably, some painful sacrifices were made, evident in the fact that only three artists were permitted to have two entries in the list, and some additional fine tuning was required.

This week, we’ll at last be counting down those 100 albums, 25 at a time. Here are albums #100–76. Voice your agreement/disagreement/outrage in the comment box if you please.

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indigo girls: different strokes
March 28, 2009, 12:00 pm
Filed under: feature, words in edgeways | Tags: , , , ,

The new Indigo Girls album Poseidon & The Bitter Bug has just come out in North America but, as usual, we Brits will have to wait a while longer for it. Wears The Trousers interviewed Emily and Amy back in 2007 but it never made it to the website, so we thought we might as well post it now to tide you over lest it forever be lost. Enjoy!

wie_indigogirls

words in edgeways with amy ray and emily saliers

Icons of the lesbian/gay community; Grammy-winning recording artists; champions of environmental and civil rights issues; scourge of the conservative right; indie label boss and restauranteur; damn fine singer-songwriters; mesmerising live performers – the Indigo Girls manage to wear a dazzling range of hats! In the week that their tenth album hit the shops in the UK, Trevor Raggatt stole a few moments with Emily and Amy…

Despite Our Differences has just come out in the UK. How do you feel about the new album?

Emily: I think it’s my favourite record that we’ve made, honestly. I sometimes wonder if I think that about every record but I really think this one will stand the test of time. If it’s not our best, it’s one of our strongest, partially due to the fact that Mitchell Froom produced it and that Amy had a great bunch of songs. And I felt really good about my stuff too, the material was there.

Mitchell was in on the process from the beginning, helping us arrange, or at least bouncing off ideas about arrangements. He had input from the very beginning, from pre-production right on through. We developed a really trusting relationship with him because usually people don’t mess with the harmonies or the structure, but he had great ideas. We’d be in the studio and he’d say, “I don’t think that harmony note’s quite the right one; I think you could find a better one!”,  and you know, he’d always be right. We recorded in his home studio and we had a new engineer in, David Boucher, a new team, a new record label… I think there was just lot of life infused in the project.

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rickie lee jones: prophet margins
October 16, 2008, 7:20 pm
Filed under: feature, words in edgeways | Tags: , , , ,

This is one of the ‘lost’ interviews from the would-be issue five. Back in 2007, Wears The Trousers’ then deputy editor Trevor Raggatt was granted an audience with the incomparable Rickie Lee Jones. We were so bummed not to get this out when it would have mattered the most; she’s a fascinating woman and a true artist. Enjoy!

 

words in edgeways with rickie lee jones

For the average person listening to their iPod on the Clapton Pond-bound bendy bus the name of Rickie Lee Jones, where it’s recognised at all, is probably synonymous with her 1979 breakthrough single ‘Chuck E’s In Love’. Wears The Trousers readers may well be more au fait with the auteur’s musical canon, so perfectly surmised on 2005’s retrospective The Duchess Of Coolsville, but The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard, released back in February, is perhaps her most unusual record to date. A collaboration with an old friend on a largely improvised musical interpretation of the teachings and words (or ‘Words’ as Ms Jones maintains in her emails) of Jesus Christ, it’s an extraordinary piece of work that rightly has a place on our Albums of the Year list.

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the swell season: live at the artists den /// cara dillon: the redcastle sessions (2008)

 

The Swell Season
Live At The Artists Den •••½
The Artists Den

Cara Dillon
The Redcastle Sessions ••••
Proper Films

The parallels between these two DVD releases extend a little beyond the tenuous link of Irish blood and a folksy sensibility. Both films present their subjects in intimate acoustic mode – The Swell Season (aka ‘Once’ couple Glen Hansard and Markéta Iglová) in a historic church and Cara Dillon in an old converted hospital on the shores of Lough Foyle in Co. Donegal – and both are based on a familiar format. Following in the wake of Patty Griffin’s emotional tour de force, Hansard and Iglová pay a visit to the Artists Den in Seattle, while Dillon succeeds in recreating the formula of BBC4’s ‘The Transatlantic Sessions’ with her idyllic surroundings and liberal scattering of instruments and musicians around a beautifully decorated room.

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nanci griffith: “it’s just business as usual”
July 28, 2008, 6:41 pm
Filed under: feature, words in edgeways | Tags: , , ,

words in edgeways with nanci griffith

It’s been thirty years since a young schoolteacher from Lubbock, at that time a rather unregarded part of Texas, put away her marking for the last time, picked up her guitar and headed out on tour. Eighteen albums and numerous compilations later, Nanci Griffith is still on the road, her enthusiasm for music undiminished by record company wranglings, divorce and two bouts with cancer. This remarkable woman rolls into London town this week for a two-night residency at the plush Pigalle Club in Piccadilly, and Wears The Trousers was delighted to get the chance to talk to her. Trevor Raggatt tells a very personal story.

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hummingbird: “we’re not a girl band, we’re a lady band!”

interrupting yr broadcast: hummingbird

The life of a lone troubadouress pounding the miles between gigs up and down the nation’s motorways is a solitary one. It’s hardly surprising that three singers who have experienced that life over the years might seek safety in numbers. However, the combination of Amy Wadge, Edwina Hayes and Cathy Burton – the triumvirate that makes up Hummingbird – is anything but a good few women huddling in a corner; it’s three talented singers pooling their collective experience, entertaining audiences across the country and having a blast in the process. Trevor Raggatt caught up with them to hear their thoughts on the viable alterative to “girl bands”.

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catherine feeny: “america? it’s very unfortunate”
July 1, 2008, 8:39 pm
Filed under: feature, interrupting yr broadcast | Tags: , , ,

interrupting yr broadcast: catherine feeny

Our rendezvous with Philadelphia-born, Norfolk-based singer-songwriter Catherine Feeny on the Brighton seafront was looking a little dubious before she and musical cohort Sebastian Rogers finally managed to extricate themselves from the coastal cultural Mecca’s mercurial traffic system and the notorious bottleneck known as the A23. Having confirmed that it was still going to be some time before she was needed for soundcheck, and with numerous apologies for her (only just) lateness, it was decided that what was needed was a nice cup of tea and a sit down. A quick stroll along the colonnades soon turned up an establishment with the prerequisite kiss-me-quick seaside ambience. So, just how the devil does a girl from Philly end up living in the wilds of Norfolk?

“Yeah, that’s a long story,” says Feeny with a wry smile. “I was living in L.A. playing music; there’s a place called the Hotel Café in Hollywood which a whole lot of singer-songwriters frequent. I met Sebastian there, who was a singer-songwriter as well at the time; he was a big fan of my stuff and he convinced me to come over to England. So I did and that kinda just kept growing. I got a publishing deal and there was just so much more happening for me in England so I just stayed over.”

Even from a very young age, Feeny had decided she wanted to sing for a living and would often serenade guests at family parties and gatherings (“whenever I was able to get the spotlight I wanted to be in it,” she grins); on the cusp of adolescence she began to play guitar and pen her own songs, inspired by her dad’s love of Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles, and by doggedly tuning into the Top 40 hit parade every week. She became an “obsessive” music collector and her determination to make it grew…but then something happened. She lost faith. “When I got a bit older and went to university I thought, okay, it’s time to settle down and think about what I really want to do. Then when I got out of university and got a regular job as an editorial assistant at a magazine, I was really unhappy, thinking ‘is this all there is?’. So at that point I realised I needed to do what really was my passion and got back to music. By that time I had sort of drifted away from it and wasn’t playing as much. But I really got back to it then.”

She has no regrets about it either. With renewed determination, Feeny has taken things further than she’d ever imagined. After years of paying her dues in tiny dives and coffee shops, she’s begun to rack up some seriously impressive support slots, from Dr John to Tim Finn via Martha Wainwright, Suzanne Vega and the Indigo Girls, as well as starting to sell out her own headline shows. Her second album Hurricane Glass, originally issued last year by small indie label Tallgrass Records, earned gushing reviews and praise galore, bringing her to the attention of EMI subsidiary Charisma, who re-released the album with stunning new cover art, a new song and a pair of re-worked tracks on Monday.

Of course, nearly every tale of good fortune in this business begins with a lucky break and Feeny’s story is no exception, albeit a touch more glamorous than most. She has one song to thank in particular: ‘Mr Blue’. One of the first songs she and Sebastian completed for the album, Feeny mailed a CD-R to DJ Nick Harcourt at tastemaker college radio station KCRW and they leapt upon it with haste. It just so happened that one of the song’s spins reached the ears of Ryan Murphy, director of the recent Gwyneth Paltrow movie ‘Running With Scissors’, as he was driving into work. “That was really lucky!,” Feeny recalls excitably. “He emailed me saying ‘We need this, pronto. Get in touch with me.’ Of course, it wasn’t nearly the rush that he said it was but it was still really exciting.

“The film came out last October and my hits on MySpace and downloads on iTunes went way up. The same thing happened when they played it on ‘The OC’, too. I went to see the film recently and really enjoyed it. It’s quite quirky and probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but hearing your music with the film, I think that’s just every songwriter’s dream. So that was just so cool!”

The song, rapidly becoming something of a signature number, has something of a Jon Brion-meets-Aimee Mann feel but it’s no rip-off. “I guess a lot of that is the jangly piano,” Catherine shrugs. “We recorded that out on a farm in Norfolk in the bottom of this old windmill. At the time the studio didn’t have a piano, but the farmhouse did. So we went down to the house to retrieve it. Then when we got it back to the studio we realised it was about a key and a half out of tune. So we had to tune it and it ended up being in, like, B-flat when the song’s actually written in C. So it was a very strange process, but that worked out the best because the horns…of course, B-flat is a great tuning for horns, which we hadn’t thought about before. But I wouldn’t say that Aimee Mann’s a big influence. She’s an amazing artist and I feel she’s just a million miles away from where I am as a writer…she’s such a thing unto herself. She’s just remarkable.”

As if to underline that an acquaintance with one song doesn’t define what this artist is about, the rest of Hurricane Glass proudly displays a diverse range of sounds and textures. Both Catherine and Sebastian had a good idea about what they wanted to achieve when they set out to make the album. Both were fans of artists like Cyndi Lauper, artists who would vary the instrumentation as much as possible between songs yet somehow maintain a cohesive feel to each record. “I always felt that was the way my music would need to be because I tend to vary quite greatly in mood and so on. Although Sebastian and I disagreed on some things at first, we definitely agreed on that; that we carry that on throughout the album. It was a process; a mixture of deliberate and happenstance. Sebastian really determined the sound for ‘Mr Blue’ almost wholly himself. He loves stuff like brass bands and that sort of Ringo Starr drum sound…so that’s his brainchild. But a lot of the stuff we thought about and worked on together.”

Even the most cursory listen to Hurricane Glass prompts recollections of several classic artists; people as diverse as the Rolling Stones and Ry Cooder, Steve Earle and Sheryl Crow. And, of course, a touch of Joni Mitchell. But Feeny’s nods to her numerous influences are stylishly done without a hint of laziness about them; Hurricane Glass is an extraordinarily well thought out and immaculately constructed gem. The strings are luxurious and the depth of the recording impresses throughout. “Sebastian loves strings,” Feeny explains. “I came to the project sort of thinking ‘oh, I don’t know about strings…’, but the way we’ve used them really amazes me.

“Actually, we managed to make the album really quite inexpensively when you compare that to the richness of the sound. Sebastian called in every favour that he possibly could and everyone got paid kinda after-the-fact. So I think that helped fuel the positive feel of the album, because everybody that was involved with it had goodwill towards it and was giving something without necessarily knowing that they were going to get something back. That’s a really powerful thing when you’re working on something creative.”

As with most singer-songwriters in the post-9/11 environment, Feeny has global strife on her mind, a concern most plainly addressed in the song ‘Unsteady Ground’. Inspired by the war in Iraq, the song was hard to write. After the chorus first popped into her head when out driving in L.A. (“I did a lot of driving when I lived there!”), Catherine found herself wrangling with the verses, going through several iterations, trying to accurately capture her feelings on the matter. “I was talking to a lot of people, trying to figure out how it was that the press and the administration were pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. It seemed so obvious and was such a depressing thing to witness. It’s really difficult to write political songs without being preachy and clichéd. And of course I wanted to avoid that at all costs.”

‘Unsteady Ground’ successfully circumnavigates the usual ‘war, what is it good for?’ sloganeering and, as a very personal reaction to a much wider issue, finds the narrator seemingly yearning to detach herself from her own nationality. There’s a palpable sense of not wanting to be part of the occupation, of frustration with the American people, and of wanting to object to the war but not wanting to be disloyal to the US or the troops serving in the Gulf. “There was definitely a time when people, even in Congress, would be called traitors if they said, ‘You know, maybe we shouldn’t be in Iraq.’ And that was a very dark and sort of scary time to be in America. You know, I think the Dixie Chicks thing kinda showed that…yeah, great, America! The home of the free…aren’t we supposed to be allowed to talk about these things? I think everyone went into crisis mode and denial. It’s very unfortunate.”

Anti-war sentiments aside, much of Feeny’s writing seems to reach into the internal landscapes of the psyche and resonate with an autobiographical honesty. And while she never used to think that exposing her innermost thoughts to a room of strangers was an odd thing to do, as her audience has grown so has her perception of the strangeness of the set-up. “It is kind of weird, almost like meeting someone at a party and just pouring everything out to them…’well, you know, I just broke up with my boyfriend, and life is terrible, and blah blah blah.’ So I imagine that your relationship with the audience must develop over the years and you must feel differently about it at different times, depending on your state of mind. But sometimes it just feels so strange that all these people looking at you and listening to what is coming from your mouth, wondering what it all means.”

The transition from little clubs to grander theatres is a real adventure for Feeny. She recalls one night back in February on tour with the Indigo Girls when she found herself on stage at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. “It was amazing, I had a great time. Number one, it was my birthday, which was very exciting, and number two, I’d been to see John Prine at that venue, and Mindy Smith too, and thought it was just the best venue ever. Playing there was just like a dream come true. It was fantastic. Plus the audience was really warm and supportive. But the intimacy of playing in a really small place where you can chat with person in the front row is really fun too.

“I don’t really have a masterplan. Hopefully the re-release of Hurricane Glass will give it a bigger marketing push and some more exposure. I’ve already been working on the next album; it’s probably more than two-thirds of the way done, actually. But it’ll be a good while before that actually comes out. I think the most important thing for a songwriter and musician is to just keep writing and I intend to do that as much as possible.”

An ideal philosophy for a singer-songwriter, no doubt about that. And with a last sip of her warming cuppa, the plucky traveller puts her gloves on, bids us a cheery goodbye and heads back out into the chill of the salty seaside breeze. With the British weather acting unseasonably oddly as it is, what with random patches of torrential rain and flash floods all over the place, keep an eye out for Hurricane Glass – it’s whipping up a quiet storm.

Trevor Raggatt
originally published June 19th, 2007

 

‘Mr Blue’

‘Hurricane Glass’