(Pictured: Christine Perfect as your basic British bird.)
I drive a 2007 Ford Focus. It has 138,000 miles on it, the heater doesn’t work right, and one of the airbags needs to be serviced. I have vowed to drive it until the wheels fall off, and there’s little reason to believe they won’t do that very thing someday.
Nevertheless, I put a new stereo in it last month. This is in keeping with my long-held belief that a car is really just a music player equipped with really expensive chairs.
In addition to playing CDs and the radio, the new unit also has an auxiliary jack and a USB port. I can connect an iPod via the aux jack, but I prefer a USB stick. I have more than 250 albums loaded on a single 16-gig stick, and it’s awesome. No longer do I have to pack CDs or fiddle with them while I’m driving. The tunes could play uninterrupted for quite literally days. Right now, the stick is loaded with albums that are highly familiar. Blazing down midwestern interstates at 75 miles an hour is not the best time to explore the subleties of new music, I find. Here’s some of what I’ve been listening to.
Arc of a Diver, Back in the High Life and About Time/Steve Winwood. Nobody really needs to hear “Higher Love” or “The Finer Things” again, but if you put on “While You See a Chance” right now, I’d be there for it, and I will crank “Spanish Dancer” every time. About Time, from 2003, might be better than both of the others. I’ve mentioned before its excellent cover of “Why Can’t We Live Together” and one of the great album-opening tracks anywhere, “Different Light.”
Black and Blue and Blue and Lonesome/Rolling Stones. These two albums coming up back-to-back the other day pleased me greatly. I like Black and Blue more than most people do, although at its release in 1976, many critics questioned the Stones’ commitment. Blue and Lonesome, released last year, is nothing but committed—bruising electric Chicago blues that’s so authentic and so hardcore that it would be hard to remember who you were listening to were it not for Mick.
The Legendary Christine Perfect Album/Christine McVie. In 1970, after she left the British blues band Chicken Shack and before she joined Fleetwood Mac, the future Christine McVie, then known by her maiden name Christine Perfect, released an eponymous album. In 1976, with Fleetwood Mac becoming superstars, it was reissued as The Legendary Christine Perfect Album. I have loved this album for a long time, for its blues tunes, for its properly English late-60s psychedelia, and for Christine’s voice, smoky as it would ever be, but still very young. Hear the whole album here.
Cass County/Don Henley. This is Henley’s 2015 “country” album, although mostly that means it’s got lots of acoustic guitars and a little bit of steel, plus a bunch of high-powered guests from the country field: among them Miranda Lambert, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, and Dolly Parton, whose vocal on “When I Stop Dreaming” should be required listening for every young singer addicted to phony melisma. Dolly’s is the real thing, and she can’t help it any more than she can help breathing.
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Duets/Elton John. You know how I feel about Captain Fantastic, but Duets, which came out of the celebrity duet fad of the early 90s, ranks high on my list also. It includes fun covers of “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (with Marcella Detroit, known back in the day as Marcy Levy, superstar backup singer and longtime Eric Clapton collaborator) and “I’m Your Puppet” (with Paul Young); the weirdly good “A Woman’s Needs” with Tammy Wynette (written by Elton and Bernie and produced by Barry Beckett); “The Power,” another Elton/Bernie original, righteously performed with Little Richard; and the gorgeous Cole Porter song “True Love” performed with Kiki Dee. Listen to the whole album here; the quite-romantic “True Love” video is here.
Boston/Boston. No matter how far I’ve gone or how long I’ve been away, some of the albums on this list (and others that I haven’t mentioned) will always take me home, back to a time and a place where we’d play our favorite albums over and over, we’d examine the covers and read the liner notes again and again, we’d thrill every time to a particular riff or lyric line, and we’d believe in our hearts that nothing else was ever going to make us feel quite like that again.
And we’d be right.