Saturday, July 5, 2008

SCENES FROM A RESTAURANT


I've still got Shania on the brain. Ever since I posted about her long-time-coming next album, I've had "Waiter! Bring Me Water!" (link) on repeat on my iPod. I love the Japanese musical flourishes, and the lyrics are priceless. Musically, there's not a trace of country to be found in the song, but the genre's great storytelling tradition is alive and well in the lyrics. She goes to a restaurant with her boyfriend, and she spends 3 minutes and 20 seconds waxing insecure because he's got the hots for a pretty girl at another table. I love the wordplay of requesting water in a restaurant not to drink but to cool down your hot-blooded date with wandering eyes. My favorite line is when she sings, "I did my best to block his view, but it was like he could see through me." What a vivid, comical lyrical image! I said it before, and I'll say it again: This could have been a huge single with a crack-up-and-die-laughing video.

I think that one day Shania should record an album of interpretations of Bobbie Gentry songs. It's got to be better than the misfire that was Shelby Lynne's recent Dusty Springfield tribute. The problem, besides Shelby's too-reigned-in vocals (this woman should be allowed to blow), was the song choices. She didn't pick the best ones. How can you salute Dusty and leave out "Son of a Preacher Man"? But maybe that was her one smart move. I would have preferred to hear Shelby covering some of Dusty's later, lesser-known music, like "In Private" and "Where Is A Woman to Go?," which, for the many people who have never heard the songs, don't have Dusty's fingerprints all over them. The best tribute CDs, like the 1991 one to Leonard Cohen and the 2004 celebration of '60s country star Wanda Jackson, fete cultish artists whose songs we haven't already heard a trillion times, so creative liberties can be taken without accusations of sacrilege or multitudinous comparisons to the originals. Want proof? Check out Trailer Bride's stunning version of Jackson's "Fujiama Mama" from Hard-Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson (link).

But back to Shania. I'd pay good money to hear her cover "Ode to Billie Joe" or "Bugs Bugs." Like Shania at her best, Gentry's songs are complex and non-traditional, which might be why she didn't have much of a chart life outside of "Ode," her signature hit, and they would nicely lift Shania out of Def Leppard-lite terrain and perhaps finally garner her the critical acclaim that has thus far eluded her. And if she could lure Bobbie out of retirement for a vocal cameo, all would be well with the world.

Shania once said in an interview that she's always writing songs, and most of them are quite dark, not the type of stuff you'd expect from her. In a way, she was selling her hits short. Underneath those peppy, poppy beats sometimes lurk major lyrical themes. If you didn't listen closely to the words of the upbeat, rocky "Black Eyes, Blue Tears," you might never realize that the protagonist is being beaten by her husband. I hope that she someday we get to hear these unreleased darker tunes. After all, she's fortysomething now, and you can only prance around a stage baring your midriff and singing "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" for so long.

And for no reason at all, here is my favorite song on Hot Chip's Made in the Dark CD.

"Don't Dance" (link)
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