Victoria Williams Sings “Century Plant”

loose-victoria-williamsListen to this track by self-confessed creekdipper and superbly gifted singer-songwriter Victoria Williams. It’s “Century Plant”, the opening track to her 1994 album Loose, on which she is joined by a bevy of talented friends including Van Dyke Parks, Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner, REM’s Mike Mills and Peter Buck, and Jayhawks songwriter Gary Louris along with another member of that band, Mark Olson, who Williams would later marry. This record  was something of a comeback album for her after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

Williams found support for her situation in the Sweet Relief campaign and related compilation album around this time that featured many of her peers and elders alike who admired her work and were quick to come to her aid. At the time, Williams was one of many musicians in the United States without health insurance. In the middle of that harrowing situation, her illness did nothing to reduce her capacity for powerful songwriting in a folk storytelling influenced version of country rock with her unique voice in the center of it. Most importantly, it did not diminish her life-affirming attitude to be found in her songs. To me, this is the active ingredient to her work; a sort of defiant optimism and positivity.

“Century Plant” embodies this attitude, a song that is concerned with shifts in perspective. This is particularly when it comes to the nature of human potential and the mysteries that often surround it. Read more

Sparklehorse Play “Shade And Honey”

Sparklehorse-DreamtForLightListen to this track by melancholy and moody musical banner as fueled by the creative engine of one Mark Linkous, Sparklehorse. It’s “Shade and Honey”, a song that appears on Linkous’ last album, 2006’s Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain.  The song would also appear in another version in the film Laurel Canyon, sung by Alessandro Nivola.

By this time in his career, Linkous was a very well-respected musician, having collaborated with top flight artists ranging from Danger Mouse, to Nina Persson, to Tom Waits. The resulting music he created seemed to plumb the depths of the human soul in the quietest and most subtle sense, without self-aggrandizement or overblown sentiment.

Linkous was also known as a troubled spirit. This seemed to be confirmed when he ended his own life in 2010. So, like his contemporary Elliott Smith, the overall sound of his music suggested to many that his own struggles with mental illness had to be found in it. This is a common enough approach that many listeners take; to conflate the sound of something with its content, meaning, or its intention. This tune is very easily heard as a sort of elegy or anthem of loss. But, in listening to this song, I wonder if Linkous was actually trying to communicate the exact opposite. Read more