Song of the Week – Gold Coast Sinkin’, Blake Mills & Rack of His, Fiona Apple

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today’s SotW was written by my buddy, guest contributor Steve Studebaker.  His band, Blind to Reason, gigs regularly in San Francisco’s East Bay.  He’s also fun to be with when exploring the music and food scene in New Orleans.

Electric guitar players are tone seekers and gear junkies, always searching for that next piece of kit that will transform their thin, plinky sound into the psychedelic roar of Hendrix or the down and dirty funky blues of Billy Gibbons.  There are many Youtube channels dedicated to this quest.  One of my favorites is ‘That Pedal Show’ hosted by Mick Taylor and Dan Steinhardt.  They do deep dives into pedals, amps, and how to combine them to find that magic tone.  They also will shout out guitar players that have sounds that move them.

I was watching a show from 2019 where they were hosting the guys from Walrus Audio, a boutique pedal company.  Mick started blasting fuzz and delay and harmonic tremolo and some other cool stuff mixed together.  He then said he was getting all ‘Blake Mills’, and the Walrus guys mentioned Blake and the ‘Heigh Ho’ album.  I said, “Hmm, maybe I should check this out.”  Which started a deep dive into all things Blake.

According to Wikipedia:

Blake Mills was born in Santa Monica, California, and grew up in Malibu, where he attended Malibu High School with Taylor Goldsmith.  Mills and Goldsmith began their musical careers in a band they co-founded called Simon Dawes.  After the band broke up in 2007, Goldsmith and his younger brother, Griffin, formed the band Dawes with Simon Dawes bassist Wylie Gelber, and Mills went on to serve as a touring guitarist for Jenny Lewis.  He went on to tour with Band of Horses, Cass McCombs, Julian Casablancas and Lucinda Williams.  As a session musician, Mills has collaborated with Conor Oberst, Kid Rock, Weezer, The Avett Brothers, Paulo Nutini, Norah Jones, Carlene Carter, Jesca Hoop, Dixie Chicks, Zucchero, Pink, Lana Del Rey, Dangermouse, Vulfpeck, and more.  He has been nominated for two Grammys for producing, including the sophomore release from Alabama Shakes. He also famously produced Fiona Apple, who he has also toured with, and who legendarily recorded the not-so-happy song A Rack of His about him.

From time to time, Mills hosts invite-only musical performances at Mollusk Surf Shop, in Venice, California.  Previous shows have seen Mills accompanied by musicians such as Jackson Browne, Billy Gibbons, Jenny Lewis, Charlie Sexton, Benmont Tench, and Tal Wilkenfeld.

This SotW is focused on his 2014 album Heigh Ho.  Guests include Fiona Apple, Jim Keltner, Don Was, Benmont Tench, Jon Brion, and Mike Elizondo.  Mills recorded Heigh Ho at the legendary Ocean Way Recording studios in a room built for Frank Sinatra.  Every song on the album is good, ranging from indie ballads to fuzz-drenched roots music.  It’s hard to pick one, but the track I keep coming back to is “Gold Coast Sinkin”. It’s got a cool, mid-tempo groove, some fuzzy guitars, and a feel that somehow makes me think of one of my favorite Beach Boys songs and a former SotW, “Feel Flows.”

For me, a song is usually 80-20 music to lyrics, so I didn’t know what the song was about until I sat down to write this.  With Blake being a California surfer, it’s not a stretch to figure out why he would be on the Gold Coast of Australia:

Ain’t no better way to spend our time
Warm my bones with your steady breathing
Put a worm out on a line
Make a home that we’re never leaving
A door wide open all the time

Go to Spotify and check out the rest of Heigh Ho. It’s a lost gem full of good writing and cool guitar sounds with superstar drummer Jim Kelter’s drunken grooves throughout.

If you like what you hear, go deeper and check out the Tiny Desk Show with Blake and superstar bassist Pino Palladino.  Freeform jazz from outer space?  Maybe, but very cool nonetheless.

An interesting read is the 2020 Washington Post article “How Blake Mills became good at everything.”

WaPo – How Blake Mills Became Good at Everything

I hope you dig this record as much as I do.  If not, there will be another SOTW next week.

Song of the Week – 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night, Simon & Garfunkel; Phoebe Bridgers feat. Fiona Apple and Matt Berninger

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

In 1966, Simon & Garfunkel release a “song” titled “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” on their album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

The track was intended to juxtapose the quiet, peacefulness of the traditional Christmas carol against the disturbing events that were dominating the news at that time.

Simon & Garfunkel sing “Silent Night” as a news broadcaster (voiced by announcer Charlie O’Donnell) summarizes the headlines of a mock report of events that actually occurred, though not all on the same day.  Mention is made of a civil rights march, the Vietnam War, and the Richard Speck mass murder of nurses (among others).

It has occurred to me many times over the years that this could be updated with equal effect every year since Simon & Garfunkel executed their concept.  In fact, in 2019, Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple ran with the idea and recorded their own update, with The Nationals’ Matt Berninger taking the announcer’s role.

Their version addressed the Sackler family, of Purdue Pharma, avoiding criminal charges for their role as major contributors to the opioid crisis, the murder of Botham Jean, and the first Trump impeachment.

I hate to be such a bummer on this special day, but sometimes a dose of reality helps us to be grateful for all the joy in our lives.

Merry Christmas.  Peace on Earth.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Criminal, Fiona Apple

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

When Fiona Apple sings “I’ve been a bad, bad girl,” I believe her.  The opening line from her 1997 hit, “Criminal”, is chilling.  Then she goes on…

I’ve been careless with a delicate man
And it’s a sad, sad world
When a girl will break a boy
Just because she can

That’s downright scary!!!  As is the chorus:

What I need is a good defense
Cause I’m feelin’ like a criminal
And I need to be redeemed
To the one I’ve sinned against
Because he’s all I ever knew of love

The song’s wicked sexy lyrics have a wicked sexy musical vibe to go with it.  (The controversial, official video is pretty sexy too.)  The opening bass groove sounds like a carnival version of Albert King’s blues classic “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

The jazzy romp builds to a lyrical climax, then continues for almost 2 more minutes with an Egyptian motif on organ and some dissonant chords banged out on the piano.  A very cool way to bring it all back down.

“Criminal” won a Grammy in 1998 for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Last year Apple announced she would donate the royalties she earns from “Criminal” to  While They Wait, a social service agency that helps immigrants and refugees applying for asylum or other legal relief.

Enjoy… until next week.