Gravity

Anticipating a move, I boxed up my CD’s and have been living without them for over two months.  While I can play the music through I-Tunes, I miss the physical ritual: walking to the stacks, running my finger along the spines, placing the disc in the player.  Instead of relying on recent purchases or favorite bands, I’m more likely to play older music when the actual album is at my fingertips.  Without this access, I forget about a lot of great music.

Like “Gravity” by Terri Hendrix.  For its introspection amplified by jamming acoustic guitar, “Gravity” is one of my favorite walking songs.  Having not listened to it in months, I credit a review of Hendrix’s new album for the rediscovery.  Terri Hendrix is a Texas singer-songwriter who mixes folk with country, blues, and jazz; since 1996, she has released twelve genre-defying albums on her own label. “Gravity” appears on her 1998 release Wilory Farm, but the version I own is a live recording from Broadcasts Volume 7 (produced by Austin radio station KGSR).

A guitar strum, opening like a fan, launches the song.  After a brief pause, the guitar kicks into rhythm gear, establishing a strong beat while achieving texture with upbeat flourishes.  Then Hendrix, her voice breathy but strong, sings about a “freefall” from a mountain, a “freefall into space,” getting quickly into the chorus with the question, “Why do we crash …? / Why does a high never last …?”  She’s talking about the existential issue of life’s ups and downs.  But not satisfied with mere metaphysics, Hendrix grasps for a tangible explanation, claiming, “All you have to blame it on is gravity.”  It’s a great choice, and an unexpected one, ascribing the emotional lows in life to the physical force of gravity.

The studio version, featuring sitar and percussion, sounds smooth and perfected.  Too moderated for my taste, it lacks the raw power of the live recording on which Hendrix achieves the same texture with only her guitar.  The rhythm riff lends itself to increasing complexity, and with it the song expands, dipping and rising, swirling back on itself like an eddy.  You picture Hendrix strumming with her whole arm, thumping the wood for emphasis.  The lyrics linger in the mind, but it’s the way the music energizes the body that makes “Gravity” a force to be reckoned with.

Listen to a clip of “Gravity” from Hendrix’s 1999 Live album.

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I ♥ the Old 97’s

Missing the Old 97’s show in Seattle a few weeks just about broke my heart.  I usually count on the band to patch my heart together or at least shock it back to life with their rocking songs about lost loves and lost times.  Way back, almost to ‘97, in the fall of 1998, I lucked into seeing the Old 97’s when they opened for Chris Isaak at the Backyard in Austin.  At a melancholic phase of my life—post-college, post-boyfriend—I longed for the sonic retreat of Isaak’s blue tunes.

Waiting for him to take the stage, I found my toes tapping to the opening band, which I often ignored.  But this band—“the Old 97’s, y’all” as lead singer Rhett Miller announced—got my attention and much of the crowd’s, not a minor feat at an outdoor amphitheater with multiple bars.  The music, with its catchy hooks and sprawling sound, exerted its presence as did the members of the band.  Those four guys rocked hard, but singer Miller was the most fantastic, dancing and throwing around rock star moves from the seventies.  He swung his skinny hips to the beat and practically swallowed the microphone belting out his clever lyrics about love gone wrong.

The Old 97’s owned that stage in 1998, just like every venue at which I’ve seen them since.  Their music is accessible—when you hear a new song, you want to know the words so you can sing along, but it’s not simple.  It’s alt country at its best: rock swagger and instrumentation with country licks, punk attitude, and artful lyrics that invite both at-home listening and screaming sing-along.

Chris Isaak fell out of my rotation a decade ago, but the Old 97’s are still going strong.  Whenever I listen to one of their albums, particularly the live “Alive and Wired,” I shake and shimmy as at that first show thirteen years ago.  According to reviews of the show I just missed, the 97’s dished out the tunes with the same verve and conviction as always.  And like those reviewers, I’m already pining for another show.  Next time I’ll be there, with my heart on my sleeve.