Friday, January 16, 2009


I want to talk for a minute about los angeles' Haden family: you could define true musical eclecticism as the ability to dig all the branches on this multigenerational family tree. jazzheads know missouri-reared bassist charlie haden for his ability to match the country twang on ornette coleman's early (and best records) -- charlie grounds free jazz stuff that might otherwise be rootless: some of CH's solo stuff is awesome too: lester bangs once called him "hypnotically inventive."

the new haden family LP, "rambling boy," includes the whole gang, which means rachel and petra haden, both of whom made that dog's "retreat from the sun," from 97, one of the best sunny-LA records since brian wilson cracked up. (petra's all-chick-a-capella version of "the who sell out" must be seen to be believed.) tanya is violist for let's go sailing, another fine LA group, and -- fun fact -- she and hubbie jack black camped in the hospital virtually next to my wife and me and had their first kid the same week we had ours. (i did not say hi.)

but my favorite member of the haden family these days is Josh, whose band Spain is one of the great lost groups of the 90s. in the dark days before xmas i found my old copy of "she haunts my dreams" -- 10 years old this year!! and let's just say it has actually haunted my dreams. some of what i wrote about in the 90s sounds dated today -- this has only gotten better. (here they are at the getty, btw.)

listening to it now, it's striking how much it pulls from the haden tradition of stripped-down, plainspoken, ozark mtn country music: it's also a cousin to such wonderfully bittersweet records as the scud mountain boys' "massachusetts" and the works of LA's Acetone, Radar Bros, and the career of gene clark, the great, yearning, semi-tragic byrds singer/songwriter. (and now we are back in missouri.) spain's "spiritual" was covered by johnny cash.

"she haunts my dreams" is also one of the BEST BREAKUP RECORDS of all time. it begins with the simple, heartsick repetition of the song "i'm leaving you," and just gets deeper and deeper into its theme... anyway, if you think LA music is all about shallow narcissism or studio trickery or hipster bs, check this one out on a dark night of the soul... 

WONDERING: what do my distinguished readers consider the other great breakup albums??? i'm thinking richard and linda thompson's "shoot out the lights," beulah's "yoko," beck's "sea change"... and anything  by quasi, a great band that actually >is<> a divorced couple.

Photo credit: Flickr user 9



thels said...

best breakup record is everything but the girl's walking wounded... they'd broken up and, i think, gotten back together by the time they were making it. words are from the breakup, but music is from the getting together. so the ideas are broken hearted, but the music isn't...spain would make me curl up and just want to disappear. this brings you back to the world. think i need to be relatively happy to listen to spain or it's all just too much!

ian says he loves townes van zandt...the mournful ones for dark moods and then "who do you love" for the "i will survive" comeback!!!

Scott Timberg said...

i was just thinking, re gene clark, the byrds "i'll feel a whole lot better" is one of the HAPPIEST breakup songs ever... gang, any other nominees?

d skinner said...

I concur on walking wounded. The lyrics are so honest it's almost awkward, but the intoxicating brew of music leaves you unable to turn away. And of course Tracey Thorn's honey-toned voice makes the imagined ache that Ben Watt must of felt all the more painful.

I'd add to the breakup list, the stripped down Dylan tune "don't think twice it's alright". Not a happy breakup song by any means, but a gem for sure. It's a classic Dylan blend of the sweet and cynical.

Scott Timberg said...

skinner makes a very good point re dylan. i recently revisited "positively fourth st" which may be the most spiteful breakup song ever -- as well as dylan's greatest ever song, at the level of writing, singing and playing. more on that on a future post.

Morgan said...

I LOVE "Feel A Whole Lot Better," but I always think of it as having a REALLY nasty edge to it. Um. Upon listening to it, though, I think you're right and my experience was colored by my dad's listening to it post-divorce.

I was also going to mention "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright"- is there a better kiss-off than "you just kinda wasted my precious time"? For extra fun, listen to the Dylan version and Baez cover back to back.