reviews/music

The Ditty Bops

Have I mentioned how my mildly (ha!) obsessive-compulsive nature manifests itself in my car? Well, firstly, it shows up in my serial purchasing of the same car. (Corollas ain't sexy, but boy, are they dependable.) In my annoying moving-around of objects (garage-door clicker, change for meters, Stim-U-Dents) from one storage cubby to another in search of the ergonomically perfect resting place.

But mainly, it manifests itself in the constant replaying of whatever CD "sticks" in the player. For awhile, I listened to a lot of Madeline Peyroux. Before that, I listened to even more William Shatner.

Lately, as in, for the past month, it's been all about the Ditty Bops.

As usual, I am late to the game. I first heard of them via Koga on my other bloggy home, b.la. Koga is both way geekier and way cooler than I can ever hope to be, so you know the Ditty Bops are happening. But according to The BF, The DBs have also been featured on Prairie Home Companion, which is, um, pretty dorky and not very hip, albeit groovy in its own way.

So you see, the Ditty Bops are clearly the perfect band: quirky, musically adept and unclassifiable. They are certainly a little bit country, there's a lovely little waltz called "Two Left Feet" and plenty of pickin' & strummin' throughout. But they are also a little bit Hawaiian ("Wishful Thinking"), a little bit Tin Pan Alley (nifty nouvelle-vaudeville cover of "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate") and plenty perverto-pop, that cheerful, foot-tapping stuff that has one smiling and singing along, even as it diverts immediate attention from the smart, darker lyrics.

The Ditty Bops remind me a lot of another fave weirdo girl group, The Roches. Close harmony, a multiplicity of influences, an appreciation for old and useful things, a deft hand with lyrics and arrangement (both musical and vocal) and that occasional freaky-deaky stress on the odd syllable. Maggie, Terre and Suzzy (kick-ass in concert, btw, which I understand the Ditty Bops are, too) came out of the gates so strong with their first two albums, it was almost inevitable that follow-up albums fell a bit short.* It'll be interesting to see where the Ditty Bops take their act.

In the meantime, of course, I'll just hit "replay"...

xxx c

*If anyone can lend me the later/newer albums so I can be proved wrong, I will gladly fork over the dough to buy them ALL!

Photo of the Ditty Bops in concert at Bricktops by Jason DeFillippo, via blogging.la

Tiny picture of the Ditty Bops' actual album from Barnes & Noble, because FUCK YOU, amazon, I FUCKING HATE YOU!!!

Careless Love

I don't remember what I was doing the first time I heard Madeleine Peyroux, but I remember what I was thinking: wasn't Billie Holiday dead before Leonard Cohen started writing songs? Okay, so maybe there was a period of overlap. But since then, and many times over, the astonishing similarity between young, whitey-white Peyroux and the long-gone First Lady of the Blues has been the lead comment when post-track chat commences.

Singers like Peyroux (and k.d. lang and Megan Mullally and even young Norah Jones, now that I think of it) make me happy because they combine great pipes with great taste and Actual Life Experience that Results In A Point of View. As L.A. Jan and I were lamenting just yesterday (we're both hooked on "Idol" now), Kelly Clarkson has an astonishing instrument, but to what end? Fomenting preteen unrest with pop claptrap? And don't get me started on the Queens of Oversing: Celine, Mariah and just about every contemporary country singer you can name. You couldn't pay me to listen to one of those hideous power ballads and it's not because I'm rolling in dough these days.

Careless Love isn't a perfect album, I get the feeling that sometimes Peyroux and her producer were coasting a little on the charm of her voice, but it's damned close. And a trio of tracks alone are worth the price of admission: the so-sad, slow and sweet "I'll Look Around"; the sexy, playful "Don't Wait Too Long"; and my current obsession, "Dance Me To The End Of Love." I've tried and tried to love Leonard Cohen but I just can't deal unless one of the ladies, Jennifer Warnes, k.d., Madeleine, is doing the heavy lifting. Fortunately, the list of Cohen covers is long and mighty, but we can always use more truly fabu artists like Peyroux tackling the canon.

xxx c

Has Been

WARNING: The review you are about to read was written by a musical moron. That is, by the way, my standard caveat. Having grown up on a steady diet of showtunes, Top 40 and Bad 1960's White People Music (Mitch Miller! Steve and Eydie! Up With People!), I am woefully unqualified to judge anything as "cool" or "uncool" unless it resides firmly at one or the other end of the spectrum. And frankly, if it hadn't been for the stray Ella LP slipped onto the phonograph stack or my cool Uncle George's lifesaving, intermittent interjection of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles (kind of musical triage, now that I think about it), I might not even be able to discern that much.

But even a musical moron knows the instant she hears One For The Ages. There's something visceral about hitting the sweet spot that anyone can see: that piece of art that reaches across the room and grabs you by the heart; that novel that seems to be reading you; and that song...oh, that song...

As the person who turned me on to Has Been put it, "It's oddly compelling, isn't it?" You got that right. With songs about his dead wife floating in the swimming pool, the off-again relationship he has with an estranged daughter and arrangements that make you wish the word "eclectic" was not so overused as to make it useless in defining this, Has Been is odd to the nth degree. And yet, I have been unable to remove the CD from my car player since I put it in a week ago.

The outrageous success of this album is probably due in no small part to Ben Folds, whom the kids tell me is the opposite of a musical moron. I mean, I heard William Shatner's first go-round and all I can say is that I ain't putting 'Windmills of Your Mind' on a mix tape anytime soon. Still, William "Bill, to you, Ben" Shatner's honesty is pretty staggering, especially in light of the rather difficult truths that make up his life.

My current favorite cut is 'Real,' the last track on the album. It's weirdly humble and pompous all at once. Shatner talks his way through it, as he has every track I've ever heard him on since 'Windmills,' but damn if that boy doesn't have some fierce rhythm, all the same.

Maybe that's the appeal: full-on truth, yes, but also a resounding respect for form. Say what you want about the guy, but I think he gets it. And he digs those kindred souls who also get it, even though their own truths may manifest themselves in vastly different ways.

Before I heard the album, I'd have been hard-pressed to come up with William Shatner and Ben Folds as the perfect people to make beautiful music together. Now that I have, I just can't wait to see what they come up with next.

xxx c