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Today is Veteran’s Day. Here in Minneapolis the kids still have school, and your friendly neighborhood record shop will still be open the same hours as on any Friday. But hopefully, the people chanting stupid stuff like “Lock her up!” or “Not my President!” will set aside their unproductive partisan bullshit for long enough that to remember the many who have sacrificed to defend their right to chant stupid stuff.
Steve Goodman’s “Election Year Rag” was first released as a non-LP single during the 1972 campaign between incumbent President Richard Nixon and South Dakota Senator George McGovern. The country songwriter — famous at the time for penning the Arlo Guthrie “The City of New Orleans” — could be variously sentimental and sarcastic (A lifelong baseball fan, Goodman titled one of his later albums High and Outside). “Election Year Rag” expresses our universal exhaustion.
And its as true today as it was in 1972. Who could have predicted forty-four years ago that a future election would involve candidates discussing dick size in a debate, caught on tape boasting of molesting women, or caught and questioned by the FBI for violating the public trust. Or interference in our election by the Russians — the Russians! What would Nixon say? — or the FBI itself. We’re so far through the looking glass its hard to remember what real politics were like.
This song is actually the second most relevant Steve Goodman song today. The first would be either “Go Cubs Go” or “A Dyin’ Cub Fan’s Last Request.” Praised for writing “the perfect country and western song” by David Allen Coe, Goodman’s true claim to fame may be his passion for his favorite baseball team.
Goodman’s ashes were, according to his brother David, scattered in left field. David Goodman and a friend bribed a groundkeeper with a Playboy and $20 — we are not making this up — to sneak in and spread the ashes four years after the country songwriter passed away from Leukemia.
This is, strangely, our second music-related post about scattering ashes this week.
The Cubs won the Eastern Division title for the first time just four days after Goodman passed away in the fall of 1984. He had been asked to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” before his beloved team’s first post season game since 1945, and Jimmy Buffett (who has recorded several of Goodman’s songs over the years) filled in. The Cubs lost the game to the Padres, 3-2.
Steve Goodman re-recorded “Election Year Rag” for a short-lived National Public Radio segment in 1979. The spots featured Goodman, accompanied by Jethro Burns, performing freshly-written songs on the subject of current events, but most of them were never aired. We haven’t been able to find these online, let alone anywhere out in the real world.
As they they have at the end of every Cubs victory for years, fans at Wrigley Field heard Goodman’s “Go Cubs Go” after their team won its first World Series title in 108 years.
For a band with an established base of devoted fans, there’s a fine line between maintaining your image and cultivating your sound. Nobody wants their new album to be the equivalent of the Clash’s Cut the Crap or, well, any record by the Wings. The natural desire to grow as an artist has to be balanced against the expectations of the audience.
This is all the more challenging if you released no less than four records the previous year. Enter the Blind Shake, whose quartet of new LPs in 2015 were each individually solid enough to sustain the trio’s reputation.
Full disclosure: one of those four albums, Shadow in the Cracks, was a side-project, and another, Modern Surf Classics, was a collaboration with underground guitar legend John Reis. Each of those is unmistakably in the Blind Shake oeuvre.
In 2016 the band often regarded as the best live act in the Twin Cities has offered a more modest program of one LP, out this week from Goner Records who released two of last year’s releases. Celebrate Your Worth is their most expansive and inventive album yet, and if any fans felt record collecting fatigue after last year’s onslaught, they won’t regret purchasing this one.
Opening in familiar territory with a song called “I Shot all the Birds,” the new album quickly follows the form of last year’s Fly Right by moving in multiple moody directions. Celebrate Your Worth, surprisingly, contains the most ‘pop radio’ song the band has ever recorded — maybe the Twin Cities’ Current will finally recognize this band after giving “Reasonable World” a listen.
“Reasonable World” is also notable for its vocal clarity, contrasted from the previous track on which Mike Blaha’s vocals are steeped deeply in reverb. This is also the first Blind Shake record to include the lyrics inside the jacket. Jim Blaha tells us this is because they were especially proud of this album, and they should be although we believe they have been consistently compelling since Breakfast of Failures a couple years ago. Not surprisingly, the band is still singing about (alternately) alienation and self-determination.
Celebrate Your Worth also delves into almost drone-y psych rock territory in “Alicante,” an epic for the Blind Shake in that it clocks in at around four and a half minutes. They even expand their sound with the unexpected but absolutely fitting appearance of an organ. This creates one of those moments where the production is so tastefully rich it recalls the massive-budget big name albums of the 70s. “Alicante” is one of those songs that simply sounds so good you feel like you could pick it up and hold it.
This isn’t to say the band doesn’t deliver on what they do best: “Corpse on the Roof” mines the manic and angular territory of their classic sound, and “Broken Racehorse,” which Goner Records debuted last week, feels like a marriage of new wave and post rock. In this same vein the second side provides one of the catchiest moments on the album in “Demox,” which sounds like the evil twin of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.”
We don’t doubt that these three could keep delivering the same old sound and record labels would compete to release the results. While we’re certain we’d still enjoy those records, what we think fuels the devotion of the Blind Shake’s fans is their willingness to experiment. Celebrate Your Worth is a risky album for a group who’s really striven to establish a national name, but the gambit is sure to pay off. It is one of the best records from the Twin Cities this year.
Irene is perking her ears for the test pressing to a new single by Fletcher Magellan, the latest single from our in-house record label (Hymies Records, naturally). We’re holding off on a release date for this one, record pressing being the unpredictable business it is these days, but you can catch Fletch with his band on Saturday night at the Reverie.
His seasonally-appropriate opener is the recently revived El Le Faunt and his Traveling Circus!
Also on Saturday is the record release show for Celebrate Your Worth, the umpteenth and latest LP from The Blind Shake. We hope to feature this amazing expansion of their “extraterrestrial backyard surf party” later this week, but in the event time gets the better of us, as if often does, we’ll just say it may be the most wide-ranging and best album by this band who remains not only a favorite here at Hymie’s but all over the Twin Cities.
Need a little more epic live music to celebrate between now and Halloween? Minneapolis’ own goth-metal legends Morticia (so deeply in the crypt that the closest thing to an official website it still a ReverbNation page) will play a reunion show on Sunday night at the Whiskey Junction. Its their first show since the band returned from the dead to play here last Halloween. We’re told in place of last year’s Rocky Horror Picture show encore, the band is planning an Alice Cooper tribute!