Sunday, January 13, 2008

Soul Placement

In the fall of 2006 the NY Times did a story on, the web radio site where listeners enter in favorite songs or artists, and the software selects other related tracks that might be of interest. It sounded amazing. It also had the doomed whiff of a musical "key to all mythologies" to it, as well. An intelligent jukebox. I set about trying to get the machine-mind to navigate some sort of divine course between the Louvin Brothers, Duke Ellington and Blue Cheer, to chart a sonic path to the musical Indies. A voyage of discovery. But I learned quickly that the program would only follow one thread at a time, alternating between the three, never synthesizing them into a garland. You’d get one degree of separation from each, maybe Porter Wagoner, Count Basie and Hawkwind – all good, but not the mystery unifier between big band, brother harmonies and psychedelic garage rock. Still, I thought 2007 would be the year of Pandora. More and more folks at work seemed to be using it. I occasionally resorted to it when all else failed. And I made a few discoveries.

Though I’d heard soul crooner Joe Tex before, and I had a few of his tracks on compilations, I’d never really paid much attention, until he started showing up on my Percy Sledge strand on Pandora. So, domo arigato, Mr. Roboto. (Oddly enough, recently everyone who had a Chicago Tribune IP address seems to be encountering a strange problem on Pandora: the station no longer plays music when you log on, instead there’s just the burbling murmur of what sounds like low-volume cafeteria conversation transmitted over an intercom.)

It’s a songwriting axiom that Jimmy Webb and Sufjan Stevens know well: people like songs about places. And, as with Chuck Berry and "The Promised Land" and Johnny Cash and "I’ve Been Everywhere" or countless other songs, anytime you can name more than one city name in the lyrics, your chances of getting the locals to respond is that much higher. Joe Tex knew how it was, and "She Might Need Me," from Tex’s 1970 record Joe Tex Sings With Strings and Things, skips across the map from Dallas, to Las Vegas to L.A. Glen Campbell would have done well with this one. Employing some skeletal guitar filigree that has a melted, dripping-clock effect, and a little soul flute, in addition to the strings, this song seems to start off in the middle of the drama. And listen for the big dramatic coda. Giving you a little extra, and then some.

"She Might Need Me" - Joe Tex

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