This past week we celebrated an important anniversary. That’s right: July 5 was Huey Lewis’s birthday.
Though other 80s rock stars have been in the headlines of late, I’ve been
plotting planning this Huey Lewis and the News-themed Blawg Review for quite some time now. People who know me know I’m a big fan of Huey Lewis and the News (hereinafter “HLN”). People who know me know their music has been a big part of my life, particularly in recent years as I’ve pursued my legal career.
But while I had the prescience to become a fan some 20+ years ago, obviously not everyone has been so fortunate. It would therefore be very wrong of me to waste this opportunity to share all the great things I know about this band and their music.
So join me in this week’s Blawg Review as I share the latest in legal blogging along with this crash course in HLN appreciation.
In the beginning
A logical place to start talking about Huey Lewis and the News is obviously with Huey Lewis himself. Born Hugh Anthony Cregg III to a jazz drumming radiologist father and WWII Polish refugee artist mother, he spent much of his childhood growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, surrounded by the beatniks and artists his parents knew (poet Lew Welch later became a step-father figure to him), until high school, when he went off to prep school in New Jersey.
Blawg Review > As someone who went to high school in New Jersey this fact always interested me. Law firm Stark and Stark has a New Jersey-focused blog, and recently Barbara Strapp Nelson had a post about the history of New Jersey land title, which also interested me.
After achieving a perfect score on his math SATs (he also had skipped the second grade), Huey was admitted to Cornell’s engineering program. But before he went his dad told him to take a year off and travel around Europe.
Blawg Review > In 1984 Huey told David Letterman how he managed to get himself to Europe. After spending his money crossing the country he had none left for the ticket. So he camped out at JFK, befriending gate agents, until he was able to stowaway on a flight over. Obviously, as this post from Popehat notes, Huey must not have been carrying comics with him, or else the TSA would never have let him anywhere near a plane.
In the process, he learned to play harmonica, sitting by the side of the road waiting for rides.
Blawg Review > In the David Letterman interview Huey said his favorite country that he visited was Yugoslavia. Of course, now there’s no such thing anymore, and I’m not quite sure his travels necessarily would have taken him through Kosovo. (Julian Ku at Opinio Juris notes that Kosovo is now a member of the IMF and World Bank, a somewhat complicated turn of affairs given Serbia’s unhappiness with international recognition of Kosovo’s independence.) On the other hand, he definitely spent time in Africa. (Aurelia J. Schultz posts on Afro-IP about an unfortunately-named joint venture in Nigeria, bound to offend just about everyone.) And chances are good he also spent some time in France. (Gilles Cuniberti has a post on Conflict of Laws.net about a recent decision by a French court refusing to uphold a surrogacy ruling by an American court as being against French public policy.)
His experience in Spain also proved pivotal to his musical career.
Blawg Review > Carmen Márquez Carrasco writes about Spain’s move away from exerting universal jurisdiction in this post on IntLawGrrls.
In Spain he played his first paid gig, which, along with his busking, taught him he could support himself playing music. He realized he was, “Never going to work for anybody.”
Blawg Review > That spirit of independence is captured in that of the solo practitioner. Carolyn Elefant has this post on My Shingle about efforts by the New York courts to stop wasting so much of their attorneys’ time, and Susan Cartier Liebel recently wrote about the virtues of working from home on Build a Solo Practice.
Still, upon returning to the U.S. he enrolled in the engineering program at Cornell, just in time for the SDS to start taking over the campus.
Blawg Review > Cornell is not the only school that has had issues. Elie Mystal at Above the Law discusses the dean-resignation controversy at DePaul and Dan Filler has a post about the controversy at the University of Illinois at The Faculty Lounge.
After a year and a half he left college and returned to the Bay Area where he eventually fell in with a group called Clover, whose other members included Alex Call (who later wrote the song 867-5309/Jenny) and John McFee (who later joined the Doobie Brothers). After grinding for years in semi-obscurity in California, Clover made a fortuitous encounter: UK musician Nick Lowe and his manager saw them one night, liked them, and through that connection Clover moved to the UK to record two albums: Love on the Wire and Unavailable (sometimes called, more sensibly from a marketing perspective, simply Clover).
Blawg Review > Not that everything’s necessarily perfect in the UK. Geeklawyer chronicles the troublesome idea of merging the libraries of the Inner and Middle Temples on his blog, and CharonQC blogs about the latest embarrassment involving Michael Martin and Parliament at his. Meanwhile at The Invisible College Tobias Thienel discusses the conflict of laws issue between the European Court of Human Right and UK law in the case of Al-Saadoon and Mufdhi v United Kingdom.
Clover’s music is sometimes referred to as California country rock, but it’s actually more soulful than that description might conjure. My favorite song on the two albums Clover recorded with Huey as part of the line-up is Motown-inflected “Take Another Look,” and in terms of HLN history it seems an emblematic snapshot. Huey had joined Clover as a harpist (picture here; caution: polyester…), but over time took over some lead-singing duties, and on this song you can hear not only his harp but also his still raw, yet emotive, lead vocals. You also can hear the soothing bass vocals of keyboardist Sean Hopper, whose own musical soulfulness in voice and keyboard stylings would later be an important ingredient in the News’ sound.
In England Clover’s sound was also often referred to as pub rock, which was unfortunate, because the day Clover landed in England, the Sex Pistols played their first gig and no one wanted to see pub rock in England anymore.
Half of Clover (including Sean, but not Huey) backed Elvis Costello on his debut My Aim is True album, which was reprised in a performance in 2007, while Huey appeared on the Dave Edmunds/Rockpile album Repeat When Necessary playing harmonica on “Bad is Bad” (a song written by Clover) and Marcus David’s “Catch Me If You Can” (he also sang on the track). (He also worked with Thin Lizzy’s Phillip Lynott, whose “Boys are Back in Town” the News would later often cover in concert.) But soon Huey was back in Marin County looking for a new musical adventure. A local club called Uncle Charlie’s had an opening on Monday nights, so Huey started inviting the local musicians he knew for a night of covers and jamming. But as for lead singers; now that was his job.
Eventually six musicians from the Monday Night Live line-up came forth and formed a band: Huey, Sean from Clover, Bill Gibson (drums), Johnny Colla (sax), Mario Cipollina (bass), and Chris Hayes (lead guitar).
Blawg Review > With the help of Blawg Review sherpa Colin Samuels of Infamy or Praise I found that Bill Henderson has a post about the relevance of law school to the practice of law at the Legal Profession Blog, Sean O’Connor has a guest post lamenting AT&T’s trademarking practices over at The Legal Satyricon, and Mario Madrid has a post about the perils of pain pills at Houston Criminal Law Journal. Meanwhile Christine Hurt, who may or may not go by “Chris,” has a post at The Conglomerate comparing Madoff to Dillinger and society’s relative attitudes towards each, and John Steele, who may or may not ever go by “Johnny,” had an interesting conversation with Brad Steele about Sotomayor and Belizean Grove that was recorded on this blog post at Legal Ethics Forum.
Bill, Johnny, and Mario had had played in a band called “Sound Hole,” a local Clover rival that once had backed Van Morrison, whose sound was something of a cross between Tower of Power and Steely Dan. Bill also played with other local bands including SVT, while Johnny had played with Sly Stone and Mario with his brother John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, among others acts. Chris, who comes from a family of musicians (his sister Bonnie is a singer/songwriter whose credits include several hits for Bonnie Raitt, his brother Kevin plays drums with Robert Cray, and another brother Jonathan is a guitarist with his own band), meanwhile had extensive jazz credits. Ultimately the News sound tended to gravitate towards R&B (Huey had always preferred musicians like Otis Redding to the psychedelic bands his mother took him to see at the Fillmore), but at the same time there were always other influences to pull it in other directions.
Huey Lewis and the American Express
Monday Night Live eventually came to record a song called, “Exodisco,” a disco spoof of “Exodus.” This song led to a singles deal with Phonogram, which funded the studio time necessary for HLN to make a demo. This demo got them a manager, who then got them a gig, which then got them a record contract with Chrysalis Records. But they still didn’t have a name.
One of the important facts of HLN history is that by the time the band formed, its members had some experience under their belts, lessons learned of what worked and what didn’t, from how to behave as professional and responsible musicians (a maturity which certainly has helped enable their career longevity) to how to structure themselves internally. While the band is an ensemble, the amorphous structure of Clover, which had several singers, was dispensed with in favor of the clear structure of a frontman and his band: Huey Lewis (as he was now calling himself) and the… and the… and the American Express. (“Don’t leave home without them.”) Except that name didn’t last long for fear the band would soon find itself sued.
Blawg Review > Trademark lawyers have been busy blogging this week. On her IP-Brands blog Shireen Smith comments on the landgrab spawned by Facebook’s debut of personalized URLs. Ron Coleman contemplated Burger King’s messy trademark situation on Likelihood of Confusion. Michael Atkins noted a case about unclean hands in trademark litigation at Seattle Trademark Lawyer. And Marty Schwimmer recently posted about another decision saying that the removal of the UPC symbol on grey market goods could be actionable on The Trademark Blog.
So “Huey Lewis and the News” they became instead, and in 1980 they put out an album of the same name. It was not a commercial success, nor was it necessarily well-produced. The key thing to remember about HLN is that they are the consummate live band; formed out of jam sessions, they always were. By recording this album quickly, with a minimum number of takes, they hoped it would capture their live sound. But recording an album is not like performing live; the act of recording requires its own method, and the sound on the record is a bit distant. On the other hand, some key features to the band’s overall sound emerged, particularly on songs like “Some of My Lies are True” and “Trouble in Paradise,” which they still play today. Features like sax solos. Backing vocals. Keyboard and bass line textures. And, most notably, an overwhelming energy, especially when playing live.
Fortunately their record contract allowed them to do a second album, and they managed to win the right to produce it themselves. It is something I’ve always admired about this band — indeed, it may be a critical factor in why I ever liked them at all — that the creative output of this band is their creative output. However much anyone wants to criticize the commerciality of any of their music, unlike so many pop acts, there’s no contrivance to it. No record executive or producer somewhere sat down and concocted the idea of Huey Lewis and the News; they are who they are, and their art is what they as artists create.
Which is not to say that they don’t do covers. In fact, the first hit HLN ever had, off of this second album Picture This, was “Do You Believe in Love,” a song written by famed producer Mutt Lange (who had produced Clover’s UK albums years earlier). But HLN’s songwriting has its own potency. Take “Workin’ for a Livin’,” a song that 27 years later still has enough legs that people like Phil Vassar and Garth Brooks have covered it. One of HLN’s more rockabilly songs, the lyrics retain a timeless quality, talking about the plight of the working person.
Blawg Review > Daniel Schwartz comments on the impact of Ricci v. DeStefano on employers on the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, and Andrew Moshirnia at the Citizen Media Law Project has this post on employee social networking.
Musically, however, other songs from this album stand out as pivotal in the evolution of HLN. “Change of Heart” and “The Only One” exhibit the kind of melodically blistering guitar solos Chris would bring to so many of their hits, as well as the seemingly effortless yet powerful percussive choices Bill would drive them with too. While both pre- and post- News Chris’s musical heart generally lies with jazz and gospel, all his solos have a distinctive quality to them apart from those influences. Rather than relying heavily on power chords, his solos seem to dance around the fretboard in quick successions of notes. Sometimes his solos sound almost like they are being sung, a second voice picking up the story where Huey’s leaves off.
Bill’s drumming meanwhile constantly captivates me. A devotee of Zildjian cymbals for the crispness of their tone, he nonetheless isn’t a cymbal-happy flashy percussionist. Steady, constant, and solid as he pushes the songs, his patterns and tones become an integral part of the story each one tells.
Another significant feature to this second album was the introduction of the Tower of Power horn line. HLN had always had horns with Johnny’s saxophone (although on some songs he plays guitar instead). But on “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do” the entire 5-piece TOP horn section appeared. And soon began to join HLN on stage as well.
Rise to power (of love)
The success of Picture This bought HLN another bite at the apple, and soon they were hard at work on their next album. Unfortunately once they were ready to turn it over to Chrysalis, Chrysalis nearly fell apart. Paranoid, they hid the master tapes, their only leverage, while they hit the road and waited for the dust to settle.
Blawg Review > Hard to imagine record companies being so imperfect, isn’t it? It’s not like they like to sue music fans for $2 million dollars or anything… Ray Beckerman at Recording Industry v. the People keeps track of the recording industry’s antics, and at this post asks for help tracking several RIAA cases on PACER. At At Last … the 1909 Copyright Blog Ben Challis also takes the measure of some recent RIAA cases.
But Chrysalis eventually pulled itself together, the album was released, and twenty-five years ago, almost to the day, Sports hit #1 on the Billboard charts.
The features to the HLN sound that had appeared on earlier records were fully presented on this one too. Including two other elements not previously discussed: the contributions of Johnny and Mario. While actually a very sweet guy in person, on stage and musically Mario cultivated a rather demonic, hard-edged presence. Which is not to say he was flashy; Mario believed bass players belonged in the back, and in HLN arrangements that’s where the bass line generally remained, providing the thread needed to round out the band’s overall tone. At the same time, his taste for edgy rock helped ensure that no matter how towards R&B and soulful notions HLN listed, their songs would always have a rock edge to them too.
However it might be Johnny’s role in the News that sets HLN most apart from any other band. His contributions lend a unique sound no other band features. For one thing, he sings, and if you listen to Sports you’ll hear him singing a lot. Often when you think you’re just listening to Huey, or Huey’s voice double-tracked, you’re actually listening to Johnny’s voice, constantly harmonizing and melding with Huey’s. Secondly, he plays saxophone, and often at the same time that Huey plays harmonica, which is a combination of instruments not often heard elsewhere.
Think for a minute about “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” Snobbish critics have panned the song, mostly because its lyrical paean to rock and roll necessarily lacks a save-the-world quality to it. Nonetheless, the lyrics are logical, they tell a complete story, they rhyme without being contrived or awkward… But what’s really impressive about the song is its structure. There’s not a single guitar solo on it: all the guitar there is blends with the keyboards, bass, and drums to provide foundation. Instead there’s a sax solo and a harmonica solo, and long after Huey’s done singing the words the song keeps going with the two instruments together. How many other pop songs similarly insist people patiently listen to instrumentation (non-guitar instrumentation, no less) for multiple minutes until the song has run its course? Yet this one did, and it was a hit!
Blawg Review > This past week saw the annual celebration of Canada Day. In the latter part of the song Huey calls out city names, and in concert the last one is always the city its in. At some point someone asked Huey to record a version where he called out Canadian cities, and he blanched, not imagining someplace like Halifax could be a good rock and roll city. Then he went to Halifax, changed his mind, and somewhere out there is a Canadian version of “Heart of Rock and Roll.” And speaking of Canada, copyright expert Michael Geist posted about Canada’s role in ACTA negotiations at his blog.
And then there are the backing vocals. With the possible exception of Mario, everyone in the band can sing, and sing they do. Personally my first memory of becoming smitten with the band is when I heard “If This is It” and the doo-wops of the chorus. Huey, shmuey… those backing vocals are what really turned me onto the HLN. (And, of course, the video was fun too. How can one not like a band that gets buried in sand?)
Sports was also the album that spawned “I Want a New Drug.” IP mavens know that this song also spawned a copyright lawsuit against Ray Parker Jr. for his “Ghostbusters” theme song.
Blawg Review > Not sure whether your use is fair? Brett Trout blogs a copyright fair use FAQ at BlawgIT. Meanwhile Bruce Boydon at the Marquette University Law School faculty blog discusses how copyright law is in transition, and Birgit Clark at IPKat has a post about the ruling in German courts holding Rapidshare liable for infringement.
But while HLN had turned down sharing “I Want a New Drug” with Hollywood when it asked to use it in its movie (which is what made the similarities of Ray Parker’s subsequent song so suspicious) they didn’t turn down the offer from “Back to the Future,” contributing “Back in Time” and “Power of Love” to its soundtrack, the latter of which became an enormous international hit.
Returning to the theme that HLN is really at its core a live band, it is impossible for anyone to remain seated in any of their concerts once this song is reached in the set. If there is but one quality to HLN’s music that makes me a sucker for it again and again it is the energy it contains, and “Power of Love” is one of the most energetic there is.
Blawg Review > HLN’s rising star around this time earned them an invite to participate with USA for Africa and its “We are the World” recording. The whole band sang in the chorus (their autographs are also all on the poster, although for some reason Mario’s is on there twice — and spelled wrong in one of them…) and Huey remembers recording his solo line that came a few after Michael Jackson’s. Meanwhile Anne Reed at Deliberations writes about not remembering Michael Jackson very much at all.
Perhaps it should be noted that around this time I had fully jumped on the HLN fan bandwagon. I was maybe 12. In some ways a fairly sophisticated 12 year old — the band’s intelligence and Pythonesque humor appealed to my cerebral nature — but still 12. Being a fan of anyone at that age is quite painful. Waiting that long, agonizing summer of 1986 for the long-promised new album while isolated at summer camp was not fun. But I remember the sensation of joyful relief that finally came in the waning August days when I heard the first strums of guitar on “Stuck With You,” the first single from their new album, Fore. The video joked about how hard it was to follow-up such a huge album as Sports, and, to be fair, the strain shows in some of the songs. But some, like Bruce Hornsby’s “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Hip to Be Square” still stand the test of time.
Blawg Review > “Hip to Be Square” is a much misunderstood song. Though sung from the first person, Huey was noting how so many fervent radicals from the 1960s had cleaned up and donned business suits once the 80s rolled around. “You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care…” Then again, you might be Sarah Palin, per this post by Caley at Nuts and Boalts.
Blawg Review > Fore also includes a song, “Simple as That,” written by members of Tower of Power, whose horns once again appeared on HLN’s album and with them on tour. Like “Workin’ for a Livin'” this song, too, tries to capture the financial frustration of the working man. Relatedly, Niki Black at Sui Generis blogs about trying to transfer assets in order to retain eligibility for Medicaid, and Frank Pasquale at Balkinization also blogs about more health insurance unpleasantness.
More importantly, Fore contained an original a capella song, “Naturally.” For several years HLN had been performing a few a capella numbers within their concerts. Not only can the News do backing vocals, they also can hold a tune sans instruments. Sports had “Bad is Bad,” which, as performed, was nearly a capella, but “Naturally” took on the feel of the kind of 1950s and 60s songs the band has liked covering both before and since.
Johnny (whose birthday was also this past week) typically arranges their a capella songs. Some other ones they’ve covered in concert include “60 Minute Man,” “So in Love,” “Chain Gang,” “Little Bit of Soap,” “Mama Said,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright,” which turned out to be a minor hit for them when a version was released from a Mayfield tribute album. They also are known for doing an a capella rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at all sorts of sporting events.
Small, small world
HLN’s next studio album, Small World is one of their best. If one wants to marginalize them for their previous commercialism, fine, but such criticism simply won’t stand up to this most musically credible work. Running the gamut from ska influences on Alex Call’s “Perfect World,” to Cajun on “Old Antone’s,” to jazz, to all-out brassy rock, this album is full of surprises for the non-HLN fan and confirmation of their enormous talent for those who already were. If Tower of Power’s presence doesn’t impress the cynic, how about jazz great Stan Getz, whose sax solo appears on the title track?
Small World also is impressive lyrically as well as musically. “Better Be True” encapsulates what Huey’s always said about songs, and in my own experience I’ve found to be true: whatever you sing, whether it resonates will depend entirely on whether it is true to you. “World to Me,” meanwhile, is one of HLN’s best love songs, a gentle poem of metaphors describing the enormity of one’s love for another. And I’m a sucker for “Give Me the Keys,” a horn-driven song of automotive double entendres.
On the flip side, the record also includes “Slammin’,” a HLN song in which Huey doesn’t even sing at all.
Unfortunately too many people found Small World too much of a surprise, and while “Perfect World” charted well, the album’s sales paled to those of Sports and Fore. On the other hand, the record label Chrysalis may also be to blame. In a year where “world music” had been so heralded (see, e.g., Paul Simon’s Graceland), there’s no good reason HLN’s effort should have been so overlooked.
Blawg Review > It really is a small world, at least legally: Dan Harris blogs about China’s Internet censoring at the China Law Blog, Prashant Reddy has a post at Spicy IP contemplating whether India would rule like the UK just did in denying a right to blog anonymously, and Jeremy Phillips has a post at Fashionista-at-Law about attempts by Scotland to protect tartan cloth with IP.
So after more record label finagling they pointedly produced more guitar-driven rock for their next album Hard at Play. Its songs had been heavily road-tested (during the intervening tumult with the record companies the News had toured clubs under the name “The Sports Section”) and many are quite listenable, but overall the album may be their least-typical work. Fewer horns, less R&B inflection, yet more guitar and rockabilly. Not that they couldn’t pull it off, of course. Even on their earlier albums, like with Sports’ “Honky Tonk Blues,” that rockabilly influence has always been part of HLN’s oeuvre. Still, “Time Ain’t Money,” might be better represented on Johnny’s own solo CD.
On the other hand, HLN’s cover of Don Covay’s “He Don’t Know” yields one of Huey’s most emotive vocal performances. Huey and Chris weave together an undeniable tapestry of brokenhearted, soulful frustration. The song is not like HLN’s more R&B work on other albums in terms of its overall arrangement, but it stands out on this otherwise heavily rocking album, which also includes the steamroller of a song, “Couple Days Off.”
Blawg Review > A lyrical follow-up to “Workin’ for a Livin'” “Couple Days Off” contains a sentiment that many lawyers can certainly understand. In this post at Law 21 Jordan Furlong rounds up much current thinking on measuring lawyer productivity. And for those people with a lot of days off, Stephen Seckler considers whether being laid off from a big firm job may actually be a good thing at Counsel to Counsel.
With Hard at Play HLN’s performances were getting more complicated, and it was getting harder and harder to replicate how the songs had appeared on their albums. As the consummate live band, though, this situation was anathema to their general musical ethic.
So on their next studio venture Four Chords and Several Years Ago all that studio crafting was pared down to just what was needed to capture the live performance on fixed media. HLN had always been chasing how to capture a “live” performance on record, and on this one they started to catch up with it.
Four Chords is different than all their other albums. It was something of a concept album, made up entirely of covers of semi-obscure R&B hits from the 1960s. As a HLN fan I have mixed feelings about covers: I don’t like them to the extent that I value the band’s own songwriting contributions to the popular music vernacular because I don’t want them to be crowded out. Lyrically adept, musically original, I want to hear more of what they themselves have to say as they progress through their career. On the other hand, HLN’s musical voice is probably most tied to their arrangements of songs, rather than the songs themselves. Every performance is extremely dense, with no fewer than six lines of instrumentation and usually at least two vocal lines as well, all weaving together. And this band can weave that magic for just about any song.
Thus their covers are unique: both true to the original, and yet completely their own. It’s a tricky thing to balance, and yet they always do. True, on this album, sometimes their arrangements deconstructed their sound a bit. For instance, on a song like “You Left the Water Running,” we hear a separate piano line and a prominent vocal part for Johnny, which are unusual for a HLN recording. But listening to their rendition of “Some Kind of Wonderful” I often forget that it wasn’t originally their song.
HLN’s sound was transitioning around this time anyway, seasoning and maturing, and it changed further with the departure of Mario after the Four Chords album. He was replaced by John Pierce, a highly regarded session musician who’s now been on the HLN tour bus for over 15 years. With John the bass lines are in good hands, but obviously the musical chemistry would be different with different personalities now in the creative mix. The pull towards harder rock seems to have left with Mario, but the sound that remained is still an energy-infused, well-rounded, horn-driven, soulful sound that has continued to season and mature since.
With Four Chords HLN had also picked up a three-piece horn section — Rob Sudduth (baritone sax), Ron Stallings (tenor sax), and Marvin McFadden (trumpet) — and never put it back down. (They became known as the “News Brothers.”) On Time Flies, HLN’s first official greatest hits album and the next one released after Four Chords, the horns were there on the four new songs: “100 Years from Now,” “When the Time Has Come,” “‘Till the Day After,” and “So Little Kindness.” The first isn’t the most earth-shattering song lyrically, but like most original HLN songs it tells a story in a pat and balanced way. “When the Time Has Come” is the most obviously gospel-influenced song of theirs, and “Till the Day After” is, with “World to Me” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” (which HLN backed Nick Lowe on), a perfect wedding song. Meanwhile, “So Little Kindness” is perhaps one of the best HLN songs period. (But more on that, infra.)
Plan B and beyond
In 2001 HLN released what is perhaps their most mature album to date. What with world events it was not a great time to release a record, so chances are, if you were not already a fan, you haven’t heard it, but like Small World it’s necessary to experience this album before casting judgment on this band.
With only two cover songs, Mike Duke’s “Let Her Go and Start Over” and Nick Lowe’s “When I Write the Book” (featuring a particularly dynamic drum performance), the rest is a showcase of band-written material. The duet with Wynonna, “I’m Not in Love Yet,” is the only duet the band has done (Huey sang “Cruisin'” with Gwyneth Paltrow on the soundtrack to the movie “Duets,” but that wasn’t a News endeavor), but it helps Huey sound like less of a cad than he might if he sang the whole song himself. On the other hand, his tongue is firmly planted in cheek on “My Other Woman,” a lament that his mistress is cheating on him.
Blawg Review > Should you have family law issues, Lucy Reed at Pink Tape has some information about what is safe to post on the Internet about it per UK law.
“We’re Not Here for a Long Time,” is a perfect show-closer, celebrating the party with Sean’s pumping Hammond organ, and “Plan B” is a great blues vehicle for the band to stretch out on in concert. Then there’s “Thank You #19” (a song whose title got changed as a result of a data entry error), a lyrical homage to Sam and Dave’s “I Thank You” and other such songs of gratitude.
There’s also something of a darkness on this album, both in terms of lyrics and musical tone. Even the aforementioned, relatively positive songs are painted in deeper musical colors than most of their previous songs, and not all the songs are even that positive in their orientation. Compare, for instance, Plan B’s “I Never Think About You” with “If This Is It” from years earlier. Both songs tell a story of romantic dissatisfaction, but let’s just say you could never shoot a video for “I Never Think About You” on a sunny day at a beach… Even the not-entirely-desolate “I Ain’t Perfect” captures a curmudgeon quality that only life experience can teach (“I ain’t perfect… but I’m perfect for you.”).
And this is the record one should listen to “So Little Kindness” on (unless, of course, you prefer the live version on Live at 25, the live CD/DVD released in 2005 to celebrate 25 years together). Combining the poignancy and emotion of the vocal performance in “He Don’t Know” with the more upbeat, energetic brassy thrust that so exemplifies what HLN’s music has come to be, it’s a romantic desperation you can’t help but dance to.
Following the release of Plan B Chris retired from the band and was replaced by Stef Burns. Stef also plays with Vasco Rossi, the Bruce Springsteen of Italy, and has solo records of his own. His style differs from Chris’s, primarily in terms of tone and use of harmonics, but in live shows he both makes the guitar parts his own while still being faithful to their original rendering.
Still more news
There’s obviously a lot more to say about HLN, but there’s a limit to what I can squeeze into a Blawg Review. I hope I have conveyed enough about them to help engender more of an appreciation than may have existed before. I know I appreciate having this band, this music, and these people in my life — and hope to for a long time hence. As Huey always paraphrases his dad, “There’s only two kinds of music: good and bad.” And HLN is definitely good.
Meanwhile the News is still out there, touring and working up new material.
Blawg Review > Despite what Judge Posner thinks, it does not require a change in copyright law to keep the news going. See, e.g., Alex Wexelbat’s post at Copyfight, R. David Donahue’s post at the Chicago IP Litigation Blog, Dave Rein’s post at Owners, Borrowers, and Thieves 2.0, and David Post’s post at the Volokh Conspiracy.
Last year the band contributed the theme song to the movie “Pineapple Express,” and recently new original music and new cover arrangements have appeared in concerts. Plus “old” songs have been reworked, finding new angles of attack with their evolved sound. (Compare, for instance, how they play “Jacob’s Ladder,” one of my favorite live songs in their current repertoire and which now includes a harmonica part, with how they did it originally.)
The band does about 80 shows a year, and if you live in the Northeast you’ve just missed them, but if you live in the West (or some parts of the Midwest) check the tour schedule. They really are worth the price of admission.
I go every chance I get. It’s part of how I celebrate joie de vivre, enjoying their concerts and the adventures they spawn in their periphery through travel, friendships, etc. I plan to go to some of the concerts out West later this summer, including the ones in Saratoga I’ve been known to bicycle to, just to keep things interesting.
But this year the bike ride will have a greater purpose: News Brother Ron Stallings sadly passed away from Multiple Myeloma earlier this year. I’d had a chance to meet Ron a few times and found him an erudite, principled, as well as extremely talented man who will be greatly missed. So I will use the ride as an opportunity to raise money and awareness for the disease, and have thus set up a donation page to benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation here.
Still, this is a Blawg Review about celebration. Celebrating Huey’s (and Johnny’s!) birthday, America’s birthday, Canada Day… and the 10 year anniversary of the Overlawyered blog.
Blawg Review > Eric Turkewitz has nice things to say about Overlawyered at his http://www.newyorkpersonalinjuryattorneyblog.com/”>New York Personal Injury Attorney Blog. (And Kevin Underhill’s helpfully adds to the overlawyered theme with his post at Lowering the Bar about assumption of risk when it comes to walking into Burning Man while he’s actually burning.)
It’s therefore fitting that Walter Olson will be hosting Blawg Review #220 on the Overlawyered blog next week. Blawg Review has information about next week’s host, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.