It’s that time of year again, when snow days crop up from time to time, which in turn, gives me a little extra time. Never at a loss, the desire to shovel is pretty low on my list, but there’s plenty to do around the house and my desk is piled with work that I’ve put off for months, waiting for an opportunity such as this. I have a desk at The River Reporter’s office as well, and once in a while I even get mail. Ripping into an envelope the other day, I scanned the note inside: “Hi, Jonathan,” it read. “Enclosed, please find my latest CD. I’d love to hear your ‘humble opinion’ on my music… Maybe I could use a quote on my next release? Yours truly, (insert musician here).”
Truth be told, I’ve been quoted once or twice in what is commonly called the “liner notes” of an album. My online dictionary describes these notes as “containing a mix of factual and anecdotal material of the artist, and on occasion, thoughtful essays on the artist by another party, often a journalist—a custom which has largely died out.” Although it’s fun to see my name in the liner notes, I’ve noticed that only the positive reviews seem to make it to print. Makes sense, right? Of course it does, and at the end of the day, what do I know anyway? Nothin’. Elvis Presley once said it best: “I don’t know anything about music. In my line, you don’t have to.” With that in mind, and a heap of CD’s awaiting my review, I popped a few in and sat back, prepared for the best, bracing for the worst. With a few days left to fill a Christmas stocking, there’s still time to give the gift of music.
First up: “Cookin’” by Marc Switko, released last September. Marc (www.marcjswitko.com ) and I are pals, and (IMHO) he’s a talented guy, but until now, my experience with his music has been as an instrumentalist, playing with others on drums or guitar. This solo album features his original compositions and vocals. “Did you listen yet? What did you think?” Switko asked, when I saw him in the market the other day. “Honestly, Marc,” I replied, “are you sure you want to know?.” Laughing and nodding his head, Marc egged me on. “Go for it!” he declared, “No holds barred.” Track titles such as “I’m a Somebody,” “40 Cups of Coffee,” and “I’m Dead” beckoned, but as Switko’s basso profundo, atonal, confrontational, angry lyrics droned on, I found myself wishing that I was dead, too. I’m not sure what my friend is trying to convey in his lyrics (“It doesn’t matter anymore, I’ve got my own hand to hold in the snow tonight.”), but “happy” doesn’t seem to be at the top of his list. My liner note? “A miasma of self-indulgent despair-music to slit your wrists by.” Unlikely that will be on his website anytime soon.
Seeking something a little lighter, I slipped Elizabeth Rose’s “Sleep Naked” (www.elizabethrosemusic.com ) into the player and glanced at her extensive liner notes. Customary credits to her sound engineers, graphic designers and friends were mixed in with a nod to her pajamas, gospel churches and fellow singers who “graced this album” and their “sense of humor.” Singer/songwriter Michele Branch is quoted as saying, “I think it’s so cool that [someone] can pick up a guitar and create something that didn’t exist five minutes ago. You can write something that no one’s ever heard before.” While that’s certainly true of both Switko and Rose, it’s the latter, whose ability to pen clever, witty, wildly amusing and well crafted songs that made me want to live again. “Naked” is filled with variety. Rock, blues, jazz, country and soul are covered on this album, and (dare I say?) she does them all well. An accomplished musician, it’s Rose’s lyrics that shine for me, and while I have no knowledge of her influences, I was reminded of Noel Coward and Stephen Sondheim at times. It seems clear that Rose has had her fill of heartache and bad relationships, but unlike Switko’s gravely off-key lament, Elizabeth relies on an amusing turn of phrase and sharp-tongued sarcasm to carry her catchy tunes. The sweet title track is juxtaposed by a political statement in “Oil,” followed by the autobiographical “Deliver me.” Additional tracks, “Leave Me Alone,” and the hilarious “Whistle at Me,” all have one thing in common: storytelling. Rose is masterful at conveying her feelings and expressing her thoughts on a number of subjects. “Sleep Naked” gives the listener a chance to get to know this entertainer, and I found myself wanting more. Will she use my thoughts in her liner notes? I doubt it, but that’s OK. Elizabeth Rose doesn’t need my stamp of approval.
Interested in my humble opinion of your work? Send your CD’s and books to Jonathan Fox, C/O The River Reporter, 93 Erie Avenue, Narrowsburg, NY 12764. Maybe I can crush your dreams, too. Or, as Marc Switko so eloquently phrased it, “A crust of bread, a burning bed, I pray I can get it out of my head.”