What is Valentine’s Day without a great soundtrack? This weekend Chuck, Keith and I offer a cupid-shot edition of Sleepy Hollow with our Songs of Love Weekend–full of quiet seduction, subtle admiration, and the occasional heartbreak and loathing of a past lover (fear not, V-Day haters, “Love Ridden” by Fiona Apple will make an appearance on Sunday). Here is a preview of what’s to come, with selections from all of us here at Sleepy Hollow and some extra words from Keith and I. Enjoy!
Gerry Mulligan Quartet-“My Funny Valentine”
This Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart composition, originally featured in the musical Babes in Arms, has no shortage of transcendent readings. From Ella Fitzgerald’s 1956 version featured on …Sings the Rodgers & Hart Song Book and Miles Davis’ near definitive 1957 version from Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet to more recent efforts by Elvis Costello and Rickie Lee Jones, “My Funny Valentine” has long since earned its place as one of the great American compositions.
It is the Gerry Mulligan Quartet’s 1953 version, though, that survives as the ultimate rendition–included on Fantasy’s Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Vol. 2 and featuring Carson Smith on bass, Forrest “Chico” Hamilton on drums and, most importantly, Chet Baker (who had previously sang the song) on trumpet, this recent addition to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry is so intimate that a soft, off-mic harmonic chant by Mulligan and Hamilton can be heard just under the horn during Baker’s solo (And Hamilton and Baker during Mulligan’s).
And what solos they are, Baker’s pure trumpet, with a minor blues reminiscent of Miles, and Mulligan’s deep baritone that ultimately resolves into a joyous, though still subdued, melody before Hamilton accompanies the final conversation between the great hornmen. It is a success that stands as a high water mark in the two very different careers of the universally respected Gerry Mulligan and the beloved but troubled Chet Baker. A sound full of intrigue, mystery, and beauty, it remains as vital today as it did some 63 years ago.
Rickie Lee Jones-“My One and Only Love”
Rickie Lee Jones gets understated accompaniment from Charlie Haden on bass, Robben Ford on acoustic nylon string guitar and Dino Saluzzi on bandoneon for a world weary and slightly woozy take on this jazz standard in only the inimitable way that Ms. Jones can. Never one to shy away from covers, she does so with aplomb and style to spare, making the material her own. As part of her eclectic array of covers Pop Pop released in 1991 for Geffen.
Freeman-“More Than the World”
Though it had been more than four years since New Hope, PA cult-favorites, Ween, had performed together, that drought will be over by the time you are reading this, as Ween reunites this weekend for three shows in Colorado. And while their penchant for bizarre songwriting (helped in no small part to the minor early-career hit “Push Th’ Little Daisies”) is often the talking point of the band, as well as their devoted Boognish-loving (don’t ask…) following, it is sometimes taken for granted that Dean and Gene Ween (AKA Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman) are among the most accomplished and diverse songwriters and arrangers of the last 20+ years. For his most complete set of work during the aforementioned hiatus (he released two other albums during this time, one of new material and a demos collection), Aaron Freeman paired characteristically playful surrealism (“Black Bush,” “Golden Monkey”) with a more-than-healthy dose of introspection. On “More Than the World,” Freeman sings:
It’s you that I’m talking to
you that has seen me through days that I fall
I couldn’t make it through
you have that touch
I come on that touch
And I’ve never known anyone as beautiful.
It’s a level of intimacy that we are not always accustomed to hearing our songwriters reveal (though Freeman himself came close on Ween’s “She’s Your Baby” from 2000’s White Pepper), which makes it all the more powerful, and integral to the dense canon of love songs. Here Freeman admits that despite the narrator’s shortcomings, it is the love of the song’s addressee that keeps him afloat, a sentiment that has been expressed before, but rarely with this much grace.
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman-“You Are Too Beautiful”
This track is part of one of the most beautifully produced and romantic albums jazz has ever put forth on the public, it’s lush tones and restraint from Mr. Coltrane and the heavenly tone and phrasing of Mr. Hartman’s tenor make it an ideal part of any Valentine’s Day or evening. Recorded in one session for the Impulse! label, it showcases two giant talents with romance seemingly in mind. Sidemen McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums add just the right support to send the listener swooning with delight.
Mojave 3-“Love Songs on the Radio”
The unofficial theme song for our Songs of Love Weekend (really, the chorus reads “love songs on the radio / your sweetheart lies in bed”), this track that opens Mojave 3’s Ask Me Tomorrow, is a classic of the ’90s indie/sadcore/shoegaze school. Coming out of the influential Slowdive, singer/songwriter/guitarist Neil Halstead, vocalist Rachel Goswell, and drummer Ian McCutcheon enlist a small supporting cast to create their sublime 1996 debut, that separates itself from its peers not only in its excellent songwriting, performance, and production, but also in its inclusion of a decidedly country/americana aesthetic.
This is best made evident in Halstead’s ethereal slide guitar, a constant in “Love Songs on the Radio” that plays as important a role as the song’s melody sung with impeccable care by Goswell. And as with so many of Halstead’s best compositions, this is no simple love song, but one that questions surface level love and attraction with a more true and lasting connection. With lines like “lovers all around her / she wears them like her jewels” and “she’s dreaming of the things you said / she’s hoping that it’s meant,” we are left to determine for ourselves whether this is a song in criticism or in praise of the love concept. Of course, this is left unanswered by “Love Songs on the Radio,” and thus is the success of the song: it provokes thought in its many layers, and yet, viscerally, is still downright appealing.
Chris Isaak-“Forever Blue”
What Valentine’s Day soundtrack would be complete without a few songs of unrequited love and sadness allowing the listener to wallow in his/her own sorrow? Chris Isaak has the Roy Orbison template of said melancholy intact. An understated guitar line with bass and brushes is the only accompaniment with Isaak’s forlorn tenor. Exquisite. Now pour yourself a stiff one.
Tom Waits-“Blue Valentines”
Joan Shelley-“Subtle Love”
Bob Dylan-“If You See Her, Say Hello”
Kat Edmondson-“Oh My Love”
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