There’s just too much music.
It’s a common problem for me. I want to buy more music than I possibly can, and I do buy more music than I can possibly absorb each week. This year is just starting to find its groove, and already I have bought more music than I have heard, with more (much, much more) on the way. It’s a curse, really. Just this week I have a two-hour Sun Kil Moon record to absorb, as well as the long-awaited solo album from Peter Silberman of the Antlers and a crazy (emphasis on crazy) new thing from Dirty Projectors. Each of those demands more time from me than I can feasibly commit, and it drives me mad.
I expect this is why people lose touch with current music. I’m feeling that way this week more than ever, since I’m not listening to any of the above right now, nor have I been for the past few days. Instead, I’ve been diving into an album from 1992, one that I’ve heard dozens of times in the last 25 years, but one that still resonates with me in ways that Mark Kozelek’s silken ramblings never have.
The album in question is Pray Naked, the fifth album by the 77s, and if you’ve read this column for any length of time, you have heard me talk about Michael Roe and the 77s. They’re quite possibly the best rock band you’ve never heard, and Pray Naked is one of their very best records. Jeffrey Kotthoff and Lo-Fidelity Records have just released an incredible remaster of this album on CD and vinyl, and I admit I’ve been lost in it for a while.
But it’s worth getting lost in. I brought my lovely clear-white vinyl copy of Pray Naked in to my local record store and played it for the owners (and a couple customers), and it got rave reviews. The sound of the new remaster is amazing – the bass pops for the first time, the ringing guitars sound better than they ever have, Roe’s voice is crystal clear, and the harmonies just burst out. Even the thunder sounds on “The Rain Kept Falling in Love” sound fantastic.
The album itself is a transitional one: the original 77s dissipated after their self-titled album in 1987, and Roe tapped members of fellow California band the Strawmen to form a new 77s. Mark Harmon and David Leonhardt would become vital members of the band, with Harmon still one-third of the current lineup and Leonhardt joining for tours. This is their first appearance on record, and man, it’s a great introduction. The album explodes to life with the powerful Zeppelin-influenced “Woody,” then settles in for a long run of sparkling, gorgeous acoustic pop numbers.
It’s hard to pick favorites from those, but “Kites Without Strings” has been a touchstone for me for years, its glistening guitar notes dancing around Roe’s falsetto to haunting effect. “Happy Roy” is exactly what it promises – a danceable, memorable tune about lost love in the style of Roy Orbison. “Phony Eyes” is wonderful, as is “Deep End.” The album gets heavier as it goes, with the boogie of “Nuts For You” giving way to the instrumental maelstrom of the title track, and finally the oppressive “Self-Made Trap.” It’s a fascinating journey.
And it’s one that only a few thousand people have ever taken, which is a damn shame. The 77s always pushed hard against the expectations of the Christian label they were on, preferring to write songs about life and pain and anger and doubt, and it was with this record that the relationship truly started to fray. The label did not allow them to actually call the record Pray Naked, and blacked out the title track on the cover, apparently refusing to buy into the band’s intention – they meant emotionally naked, of course, but were very happy with the double entendre. (The title is restored on this new version, naturally.)
This tension has always cost the band. They’re too church-y for the radio and too radio for the church, so they exist in a no-man’s land between the two. I’ve been on a crusade for two decades to get more people interested in the 77s, and gorgeous remasters like this one help the cause immeasurably. This new Pray Naked comes with two CDs of bonus material, much of it capturing this lineup of the band live, and a DVD of a concert from 1990. It’s all beautifully packaged, and in a few weeks, it will be available online at https://the77s.bandcamp.com. There are plenty of other great 77s releases there now, though, for you to listen to.
And yes, I know, I’ve just asked you to commit more time to more music, which hasn’t gotten any easier since I started this column. I feel your pain. I think I’m in a period of prioritization, where I’m choosing the music that I will devote time to, and letting other music fall by the wayside. That scares me a little, since I promised long ago that I would never be one of those old people who clings to the music of his youth and disregards all else. I’m still trying to stay up to date, even though it’s difficult.
To wit, here is what my March looks like. It’s insane. Just next week, we’re expecting the return of Grandaddy, a five-CD album called 50 Song Memoir by the Magnetic Fields, a solo album by Noam Pikelny of Punch Brothers and new things from Colin Hay and Minus the Bear. And that’s the light week.
On March 10 we’ll get the new Laura Marling, the new one by the Shins, a solo album by Greg Graffin, the fourth solo album by David Bazan, a live record from Peter Murphy and massive reissues from Elliott Smith, Soundgarden and Fleetwood Mac. (The latter is Tango in the Night, which holds a special place in my heart as the first Fleetwood Mac record I heard.) March 17 brings us new albums by Spoon, Conor Oberst, Real Estate, Depeche Mode and Dug Pinnick’s KXM collaboration, along with an EP by Anohni and a live record from Regina Spektor.
March 24 will see the first Jesus and Mary Chain album in nearly 20 years, a new record by Aaron Sprinkle, the third solo album from the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, a four-CD and two-DVD live box set from Neal Morse and a sparkling reissue of Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt. (Strangely, Flowers was also the first McCartney album I heard.) And the month concludes with a killer week on March 31, with new ones from Aimee Mann, Mastodon, the Mavericks, a three-CD album from Bob Dylan and a six-CD live box set from Phish.
I will never listen to all of that. But I live in hope. It’s all too much, but I’m looking forward to trying.
Next week, who knows. Did you see that list up there? Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.