26 December 2006

Updates, additions, and a little more Margaux

Hello all! Two shopkeeping things:

First, I'd like to repost the link to my "Chartological Readings" entry, since it seemed to be popular. I've just analyzed the chart of a reader named "Cheerleader," and it's fascinating. If you haven't had your pop chart read, write in! Just go here.

Also, due to a technological glitch and a few professional things that I cannot yet discuss--all good--I decided to take down my post about Christmas songs on "The Office." However, that also meant removing my admonition for everyone to check out the fabulous jewelry of "I Totally Hear That" reader Margaux Lange.

So let me say again... her jewelry is awesome. Check it out here.

And check out the similarly awesome work of my friend Kate. She's the one who told me that Margaux was reading this blog. (Margaux and I have never actually met, you see.)

Shopkeeping done, I must now go to bed. Soon, I'll be leaving Chattanooga to stay with Andrew's family in Michigan. Outstanding!


Gift "Certificates" are SO 1998

Some of you might be thinking, "Yo, Mark! Where's your list of the best songs and albums of the year? All the other lists are out there. Are you... lazy? A no-goodnick? Drunk?"

Well, no. It's just that, for the time being, I am not fortunate enough to get advance press copies of CDs. (Anyone out there want to hire me to write about music?) That means I have to wait until I actually buy albums in order to hear them, and that means I don't hear a lot of things until after Christmas. Today, for instance, I received a boatload of music, plus a gift card for iTunes that will let me purchase more. Once I've sifted through my spoils, I'll indulge myself (and entertain you?) by ranking the best and the worst tunes of 2006.

For now, let me ask you this: what were your favorite albums and singles of the year? I have $25 to spend at iTunes, and I'd love some suggestions. At present, my plan is to buy the greatest hits of Mary J. Blige and the latest album from a punk-pop group called Morningwood.

And you know that I love some Mary J. However, other than a tape of her first album, "What's the 411?", that Thomas Blake gave me for my birthday in 7th grade, I've never owned any of her music. (Remember Thomas? Some of you do!) I do dig the lady, but she has always struck me as someone who, from a purchasing perspective, was designed for a greatest hits album. Sort of like Sheryl Crow or Lenny Kravitz or Nickel Creek. I can't exactly explain why, but I feel like these artists' best songs will always be their singles. The rest of their studio albums? Fillertown.

(Okay... with Sheryl Crow I can explain why I feel that way. With the exception of one song per album, neither "Tuesday Night Music Club" nor "Sheryl Crow" gave me anything worthwhile that wasn't also released to radio. That's why I sold those CDs and got her greatest hits instead. I should not have to hear "The Na-Na Song" before getting to "Strong Enough.")
But anyway... those are my current choices. I'm open to arguments that I should spend my gift card elsewhere.


22 December 2006

Proof that TV Can Offer Happiness

One of the best things about being home for the holidays is that I get to watch a lot more TV. And my parents just got this new chair/ottoman set that may as well be dubbed the Insta-Nap, so don't even think I'm moving away from the tube. (Plus, it's rude to leave your chair if the cat is sleeping on you. Everyone knows that.)

Anyway, the ancillary bonus of watching a lot of TV in Chattanooga is that my parents get CMT, or Country Music Television. That's not a channel I get in New York, which means it wasn't until today that I saw "CMT Giants: Reba." That's right. An all-star tribute to Ms. Reba McEntire, in which literally every famous person in the history of ever got on-stage to praise, cry over, or sing the songs of the Red Headed Pixie With No Upper Lip. (As my dad calls her.)

And I love Reba. How can you not? She still seems so down to earth, and she's got more charisma than any three members of most boy bands combined. On "Giants," she was telling girlhood stories about making people pay money to hunt deer on her "grandpap's" farm. Amazing. Hers is the kind of affectless warmth that makes me love the South in spite of its persistently hate-filled politics. (I know Reba's from Oklahoma, but close enough)

Anyway, here's the point of this story. There was a moment when "CMT Giants: Reba" presented me with the most deliriously perfect experience I could ever expect from the television.

Kelly Clarkson stepped on stage to introduce Reba's "idol and inspiration," Dolly Parton. Then Dolly sang a Reba song. Then she forced Reba to get on stage and sing with her.

Kelly. Reba. DOLLY. Do you see how this is the perfect storm of down-home diva greatness? The only thing missing was Sissy Spacek and Loretta Lynn parasailing into the orchestra pit to lead an audience singalong of "Is There Life Out There." And that might have happened. I took a little nap in the middle of the show.

Oh... and even though it was Reba's shindig, Dolly managed once again to prove that she is the shining platinum standard of... everything. First of all, she sounded great on the song, which was a honky tonk number called "How Blue." Plus, she said the following things:

(1) When commenting on Reba's dress (pictured above): "I bet you didn't buy that at Dillard's!'

(2) At the end of the her number, before pulling Reba on stage: "If you think you're gonna sit out there on your country butt and do nothing, you've got another think comin'."

(3) After Reba sang with her: "Good. Now sit your ass down!"

All of this, of course, was punctuated by her squeaky laughter.

If I had CMT at home, I would DVR Dolly's time in Reba-town and watch it 30 times a day.


18 December 2006

5 Songs For... Going Home (Chattanooga Edition!)

I'm less than 18 hours from starting my Christmas vacation in glorious Chattanooga, Tennessee. And to celebrate, here's "5 Songs For... Going Home." But it's the special Chattanooga edition!

(1) "Tennessee" by Arrested Development -- Sure, Speech is talking about going to Tennessee in order to confront the racism that has haunted his and his family's life, but let's not dwell. The song is still cool after all these years.

(2) "Tennessee Homesick Blues" by Dolly Parton -- Because when Dolly yodels, it sounds cool. GWEN STEFANI AND JEWEL.

(3) "Chattanooga Choo Choo" by The Andrews Sisters -- There are plenty of versions, but The Andrews Sisters are so quintessentially big band!

(4) "It's Good to be on the Road Back Home" by Cornershop -- Remember Cornershop? They had that one song, "Brimful of Asha?" Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow? Well, they also had this song, which is on their one popular album, "When I Was Born for the Seventh Time." It's a mid-tempo ballad that features a special guest vocalist, and in it, Cornershop's British singer and the woman start trading verses about how they're leaving Chattanooga to go home. I'm sure that the songwriters just saw Chattanooga's name on a map, thought it sounded cool, and stuck it in a song. I can't imagine the people in Cornershop ever made it to the scenic city. But it's still awesome to be name-checked.

(5) You choose! -- And you don't even have to stick with the Chatts theme. What are you favorite "going home" songs?


14 December 2006

John Mayer Leaves Sucktown

I want ths blog to have integrity, so I must admit that after hearing samples of John Mayer's new album on iTunes, I do not hate it. He's still not rocking my entire world, but he seems to have grown beyond what I disliked in his first two albums. Now he's more like the musical love child of James Taylor and The Eagles, which isn't necessarily bad. (I sort of realized this a few months ago when I wrote about liking "Waiting on the World to Change," but even then I wasn't quite ready to believe.)

Therefore, I think The Grammys can be forgiven for nominating him. He's no longer a Sucktown Choice (though James Blunt still is). Now, he's the safe-bet choice who's new but sounds like a throwback. I'd say that ups his chance of winning. If Mary J.'s performance doesn't destroy him first.


All We Want for Christmas... Is Her?

A few weeks ago, I talked about Aimee Mann's super-depressing Christmas album, but now I must turn my attention to the opposite end of the Christmas spectrum.

Namely, I must discuss the super-cheery "All I Want Want For Christmas is You," sung by Mariah Carey.

My argument here is not whether the song is good or bad. (However, I love it. It sounds like a spunky girl-group song from Phil Spector's pre-murder days, and it shows off the pretty parts of Carey's voice without resorting to her dog-whistle squeaks or the recent breathy-equals-singing-because-I-blew-out-my-vocal-cords approach she's been taking. Sigh. Someday I'll get into my long, tangled history with this woman's music.)

What I think demands our attention is the fact the Mariah Carey has written and performed the only new Christmas song in twenty years to gain any kind of traction in the public consciousness. At this very moment, it's one of the five best-selling singles on iTunes, and I bet you can hear it three or four times on the radio tomorrow.

And that's a rare achievement. It's really, really hard to make inroads with new holiday music. Every year, artists unleash new tracks that wither away forever, trumped by our ongoing affection for standard carols and holiday rockers from the 50s and 60s.

It makes sense that we got a new batch of "Christmas classics" in the boomer years. Rock music was a brand new form that was nevertheless dominating the culture. We needed new holiday tunes to fit our radical changes in taste. But rock and pop haven't altered so fundamentally in the last fifty years that we need new replacements. "Blue Christmas," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "jingle Bell Rock," and The Chipmunks' "Christmas Song" still suit us just fine. Ditto "You're a Mean One Mister Grinch," "i'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" and "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." With the big band-era standards (i.e. "White Christmas," "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Winter Wonderland") thrown in the mix, our playlists are full to bursting. A song has to be exceptionally striking to muscle in on the holiday radio turf.

A quick aside: Of course rap music was a radical shift, but the genre has never really tried to embrace the holiday season. Run D.M.C. had the awesome "Christmas in Hollis," but the general ethos of rap has never fit the cozy goodwill of enduring Christmas hits.

Before Carey's, I can only think of a few holiday songs recorded after 1970 that have proven, ahem, evergreen. Obviously, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer," recorded by Elmo and Patsty in 1979, is on the list. And you could argue for Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song" as a successful holiday hit.

But notice that both those songs are parodies. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is straight-ahead pop with a sing-along chorus and sleigh bells providing most of the percussion. It's the kind of song you'd think we'd filled our quota on, yet there it is. It may end up being Carey's most enduring hit, just like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" has been for Brenda Lee.

Am I forgetting others that should be on this list? Anyone want to argue for their newly minted faves? No matter what, though, I think we have to give Mariah Carey credit--despite her lapses in musical judgment and that unfortunate Christmas Kitten album cover up there--for doing what so few others have accomplished.


13 December 2006

Whoa! Did the Grammys get relevant?

Psych! The title of this post is a trick question. Of course the Grammys didn't get relevant! The only relevant award show is The Oscars! I mean, really. Name one other award show that will prompt me to get up and watch the live announcement of nominees. Name one other award show that has gotten me to drag my ass all the way to New Haven, just so I can watch said live announcment with my friend Rachel while we eat rum waffles and loudly praise the enduring glory of Queen Latifah.

Wait... what? Solipsism? What's that?

Anyway, no one's pretending that the Grammys are anything but a show you read about the next day instead of watching live. However, I'm happy and a little shocked to report that this year's nominees make me care. And that's good, because I always want to care about awards shows. They just usually let me down.

Consider the following facts:

(1) Bob Dylan released an album this year, and it did not get any major nominations.

That's a huge deal, since the Grammy folks tend to automatically nominate every record created by someone who first rose to prominence in the sixties. Last year, Paul McCartney got a best album nod for "Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard Full of Records That No One Cares About." When I was in college, Steely Freaking Dan won the best album award. And Green Day's "American Idiot" lost to Ray Charles' moribund "Genius Loves Company." Oh. My. God. I know a legend died, but wasn't Jamie Foxx's Oscar enough of a tribute?

I mean, Grandpa may whittle an eagle, but that doesn't mean it can fly. The Grammys lose credibility when the nominators fall back on music from artists who were popular forty years ago. It announces them as fogies who stubbornly refuse to admit that good music might possibly have been created after that godly time known as the 1960s.

And I'm not saying that new equals good. I'm saying that Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan and Steely Dan have been making the same records for decades. Are they good? Maybe. Yes. Sure. But awards and nominations are much more interesting when they go to artists who are doing something that sounds current. Or at least doing something different from what they've done before. (As a side note... if they've just got to nominate older artists, why didn't these people shower praise on Loretta Lynn for her exceptional, genre-busting record "Van Lear Rose?" Where was the best album nod for her?)

Not nominating Ol' Man Dylan, though, is a good sign. All of this year's albums reflect the present culture instead of the past.

(2) This year's nominees
--be they loved or hated--at least played some role in the public conscious-
ness. This means we the people might actually be able to give a damn about the awards and argue about them on the subway, instead of snorting in disbelief that some farty old dude swept every category.

It's easy, for instance, to care about Gnarls Barkley, nominated for record and album of the year. And while Corinne Bailey Rae--a nominee for record and song of the year, plus best new artist--may not be edgy, she's at least interesting.

The Grammy people have been nominating the Dixie Chicks for years--and rightfully so--but this year it's especially awesome that they picked up record and song nominations for "Not Ready to Make Nice" and an album nod for "Taking the Long Way." No matter their politics, the Chicks made incredible music in 2006, and it deserves awards.

And guess who else got a best new artist nomination? Imogen Heap! Fabulous lead singer of Frou Frou and recently fabulous solo artist! Her Grammy love is just so... cool. I mean, Imogen Heap is so cool that her coolness may actually get diminished by a nomination, you know? But it also feels kind of vindicating that she got noticed. Like that year they gave a best new artist nomination to SWV.

Now, there are definitely some crappy nominees in the big categories. James Blunt for record of the year and best new artist? John Mayer for album? Sucktown. But even the crap nominees were popular enough to engender real hatred. And that makes for great office banter!

(3) In a stroke of genius, Mary J. Blige has received the most nominations of any artist. This means she will likely perform at the Grammy ceremony.

And I cannot stress this enough: When Mary J. Blige performs on a national broadcast, we are given a new reason to live. Have you seen this woman? When she sings on TV, she gets so passionate that her earrings fly off. Her body doubles over. Duet partners get destroyed in a blast of nuclear light. Remember how, on the season finale of the most recent American Idol, Elliott Yamin just got twenty feet out of her way? That's because Mary J. owns it, y'all. Everyone else can just take notes.

And this time, Mary's up for everything! Record of the year? Song of the year? Six other categories? Yes, yes, yes! That means she'll have even more energy. Even more of a statement to make. She will no doubt turn "Be Without You" into a searing revelation of her scarred, beautiful soul.

I haven't even seen this Grammy performance yet, and already I want to give it an Emmy.


10 December 2006

Lean Closer, Pilgrim! The Charts Whisper Secrets!

Yesterday, I entered my mid-late-twenties. Which means I turned 28. Which means I will never again be interested in MTV's programming. (But, really, that particular prophesy came true when I was still in college.)

Sadly, Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated December 16, meaning it was not one of my Extra Special Birthday Hits.

And what's an Extra Special Birthday Hit?

It's a song that ascends to the number one slot on your actual birthday date. You see, every Hot 100 is dated to correspond with the Saturday of the week in which it's published. So even though "Irreplaceable" is number one for this entire week, it will be recorded as a hit that peaked on December 16. Clear?

If that doesn't make sense... well... I admit that the whole thing is a bit arbitrary. But it's still fun. I like to believe that you can learn something about yourself based both on the song that was number one the day you were born and the songs that topped the chart on your actual birthday date. I call it chartology.

For instance, I am in a unique chart-ological position. I was born on December 9, 1978. That's the EXACT day that Chic's "Le Freak" became a number one song. The very day! That means I am forever and inextricably linked to "Le Freak." What does it mean?

Well, Nile Rodgers, who was the driving force of Chic, went on to write and produce the 80s-defining hit "Like a Virgin." Perhaps I, after experiencing some kind of success of my own, will also be responsible for shepherding the career of a protege. Also, Rodgers has said that "Le Freak" was written as a kiss-off to the snooty bouncers at legendary club Studio 54, who wouldn't let Chic past the velvet rope. How ironic, then, that "Le Freak" became the best-selling single of the 1970s. Maybe I will have similar success in the face of adversity.

See where I'm going with this?

There are two other songs that first hit number one on December 9: Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." I'm not quite sure I've gained the wisdom to know what that means, but I'm sure it means something. The charts are mysterious in their revelations.

As another example, the number one song when Andrew was born was Chuck Berry's "My Ding-A-Ling." Which is awesome. But I will not use a family-friendly blog to pontificate further on why that is so. His two Extra Special Birthday Hits are "Then Came You" by Dionne Warwicke and The Spinners and "Saving All My Love For You" by Whitney Houston. Both started their runs at #1 on October 26.

First of all, Then Came Who? Does anyone remember that song? Interestingly, though, for the brief moment in which "Then Came You" was popular, Warwick was spelling her last name with an extra "e." Which suggests that Andrew is mutable. He will never be stuck in a rut, and he will always surprise us with his personal growth. And the Whitney connection? Obviously, Andrew is either going to become addicted to crack or emerge as a defining diva of his generation. I'll keep you posted.

So tell me... what are your birthdays? Just post them in the comments, and I'll give you a chart-ological reading. Don't delay. Secrets of the universe await you.

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05 December 2006

Americans Just Won't Take That

It's not just the difference between "burgers and fries" and "bangers and mash." Americans and Brits may speak a similar language, but we are very different beasts.

Nowhere is this more obvious than our national tastes in music. (Well, except for Wham! in the 80s. Everybody loved Wham! And if you didn't, you must not have seen George Michael's short- shorts and "Choose Life" t-shirt. And his frosted hair. I mean, all of us were having pre-adolescent fantasies about running our fingers through it. Right?)

Anyway... consider this week's album charts from either side of the pond. Both lists are topped by artists making a comeback, but... how can I say this? The babies aren't twins.

In America, our number one album is "Kingdom Come" by Jay-Z, who is returning from his faux-retirement to reassert his claim on hip-hop. (We all know how I feel about artists pretending to retire, but let's table that for now.)

In Britain, both top album and top single are claimed by Take That. Remember them? Robbie Williams used to be a member when they were a boy band. In America, they had that one hit, "Back for Good," but in England there were help-lines created to console grieving teenagers after the group broke up. Literally.

I'm not saying that I like Take That. Frankly, I don't know if I do, since "Back for Good" is the only song of theirs I've ever heard. They probably wouldn't be my scene, since I only had a vague tolerance for Backstreet Boys and N*Sync.

But what I can relate to is the sentiment of a nation that sends Take That back to the top. There's just something so sweet about letting them have another crack at fame, especially since their revival is all about being grown up versions of their old cute selves.

To me, I think a people that can still love Take That must have a softer heart than we do. Or maybe they just have a more deeply ironic purchasing pattern. Either way, I'm in.

Because in America, our most popular music rarely allows the kind of friendliness that Take That exudes. When New Kids on the Block tried to get back together, we laughed. When Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre had comeback hits, it was because they became dirty sex fiends. (Especially Jordan. Remember that song? It was gross.)

I know it sounds like I'm saying I want America to embrace cheesy sentimentalism, but that's not what I mean. I just wish that Americans (and the corporate-owned radio stations that seek them out) could make more room for unironic fun. It wouldn't have to mean the end of our street cred. Brits like hip-hop, too, but that doesn't mean they don't giggle once in a while.

I think that's why I find so much refuge in "Ain't No Other Man." That's a song that just oozes with joy. Not lust or attitude or self-aware smugness or masculine aggression or greed-centered boasting. Just joy. Even if I don't want to hear that song all the time, the escape it provides is valuable and rare.

p.s. -- Please go look at this and tell me you don't want to hear what these people sound like. Make sure you scroll down to the "breakfast picture." I grew up less than two hours away from this bizarre little town, and I can't tell you how much this website makes me want to visit again.


04 December 2006

Fame Audit: Gwen Stefani

Do you guys know the website Fametracker? It's excellent. The writers say snarky, smart things about pop culture that make me laugh and laugh like a little boy in breeches who just heard his grandmother say the word "boob."

And... could this be the best part?... sometimes I write for them. Like today. So head over there to read my "Fame Audit" of Gwen Stefani. (Here's a direct link.) It's like a blog post, but with more interesting formatting.

01 December 2006

Thoughts on Patty Griffin

I had cause this week to write an essay about the theatrical structure of Patty Griffin's songs. I'd like to share it here, since she's one of my favorite artists.

Thoughts on Patty Griffin (November 29, 2006)


If you met the people in Patty Griffin's songs, you might never remember them. They might hand you your change or shuffle past you in the rain, and their quiet faces would hide the fact that they're burning alive. Because even though they're plain—-factory workers, widowers, farmers—-these men and women endure things they can barely describe. In song after song, Griffin uses her voice and her lyrics to unleash the pain of those who have no practice expressing themselves. Even when the music stays quiet, we're almost always given the sense of a dam finally breaking. And that flood of emotion is what makes listening to Patty Griffin's music, as sad as it is, so exhilarating.

That paradox is present even in the sound of her voice. Capable of everything from high, soft crooning to throaty wails, it is an instrument that demands admiration. But the glorious technical ability is rocked by tremors of sadness in her voice. There's a rough edge on every note that warns she's about to be overcome. This graveled rasp means she will never sound absolutely pure, but she will always sound alive.

Perhaps because she understands her sound so well, Griffin regularly matches her voice with bittersweet words. Taken together, her songs cohere into a sweeping story of loneliness and loss that only occasionally gets conquered. With each song, she finds a new facet of sadness.

More importantly, she finds a new story to tell.

There are three rough categories for Patty Griffin's stories. Not all of them involve the lonely people described above, but they all add contours to the world those people inhabit. Generally, the categories are:

(1) first person narratives in which Griffin might be singing about herself,

(2) third person narratives in which she sings about other people, and

(3) first person narratives in which she has obviously taken on another persona.

All three give a particular insight into Griffin's inherently dramatic technique.

Songs in the first category ("possibly Patty") are often addressed to someone specific, as though Griffin were creating a two-person scene. And because they have a clear dramatic intention, the words are never vague. In "We Are Water," Patty (let's call her Patty for now) wants to keep a friend from leaving, so she's finally describing all the things she's felt for him or her. At first, her reasoning sounds controlled. "My friend, my friend you are traveling," she explains, "and some of these secrets are unraveling… I got no regrets, baby, I got no shame."

But it's easy to imagine her friend still heading out the door, because as the song progresses, she gets more and more desperate to keep herself from being left behind. The tempo increases. Her vocals get louder and higher. And the vocals take her plea's central metaphor—-that she and her friend are water, flowing into one another—-to a nakedly needy place. "Sometimes, I think I'll drown in all these things that I feel," she exclaims. And finally, as though even that hasn't worked, she reveals the heart of her dread:

Out on the beach today, I did not find

One single footstep we had left behind

So I went out swimming in the deep blue sea

And felt the water wash over me

The hard, hard fear. The footprints these two have made together—-the vital moments of their relationship—-could get washed away forever by distance and time. Their connecton, so valuable now, could get swallowed in the anonymous ocean. No wonder a popular bootleg of the song—-it has never officially been released—-ends with Patty's wild vocal riffs. How do you make anything but raw, animal sound after exposing yourself so completely?

In contrast, Griffin's third-person songs tend to be her most restrained. She takes us to the edge of someone's pain and leaves us there, describing it just enough to let us feel the rest of the ache for ourselves. Her sense of dramatic arc, however, remains strong. Consider how much we learn about the heroine of "Sweet Lorraine," who appears on the album "Living With Ghosts." This is a woman who has been fighting for years to escape a legacy of hatred and cruelty in her family. In a few phrases, Griffin lets us know she's the kind of reckless woman who will "say outlandish things to her family just to scare (them)" and who will do anything to keep her life going forward. She starts businesses that fail. She goes to school. She gets married.

But it's not dramatic simply to run. Griffin shows us exactly what Lorraine is running from. She tells us that Lorraine's "father called her a slut and a whore on the night before her wedding day," and she says the poor girl's "mother threw stones at her on the day that she moved." It's easy to paint the rest of Lorraine's picture ourselves.

Blending these two perspectives, Griffin's third style of song may be her most definitive. With remarkable clarity, she puts herself into the lives of other people—-men and women; young and old; present day and living decades ago—-and gives them a first person voice to excavate their deepest misery.

In "Making Pies," we meet an elderly woman who has been working at a Table Talk pie factory for decades, trying to distract herself through church work and family gatherings from the memory of a husband killed in "the war." Griffin sums up the woman's mindset in the following phrases:

It's not far. I can walk

Down the block to Table Talk.

Close my eyes, make the pies all day.

Plastic cap on my hair

Used to mind, now I don't care.

Used to mind, now I don't care, 'cause I'm gray.

This woman can admit with rueful humor that she has started to change while her world has remained still. She's been making the same old pies for years, but now she doesn't even fight the indignity of factory labor. It's up to us whether to interpret this as gentle acceptance or total defeat.

In "Long Ride Home," there's no doubting how the character feels. He's a man whose wife has died, and he fears his lack of affection may have killed her. Sitting alone in the limousine on the ride back from her funeral, he berates himself, "Forty years go by of someone laying in your bed. Forty years of things you say you wish you'd never said. How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead? I wonder as I stare out at the sky a'turnin' red."

Like "Making Pies," the song is a complete drama. We know where this man is located. We know precisely his conflict. From his use of the word "a'turnin'" we even can guess that he's Southern.

In both songs, Griffin lets the final section explode with the same emotional passion of "We Are Water." The woman in "Pies" finally cries in high-pitched misery about how routine life has not erased the memory of her husband. In "Long Ride," the man sings loud and low with agony as he realizes that he's pulling up to his house. "It seems as empty as the inside of me," he moans.

But it's too late. These feelings have been kept inside for too long. In all Griffin's character songs, these everyday men and women must carry their broken hearts around forever. It's no accident that these characters are almost always talking to themselves. In a way, Griffin is giving voice only to what's inside of them. There's never any indication that the feelings she's evoking will actually be expressed out loud by the characters. Instead, there are signs that these people will continue with their anonymous, lonely lives. At the end of "Making Pies," the woman heads back to the factory for another shift. And what choice does the man have but to get out of the limo and head inside the empty house?

It's a great irony that Griffin sings so expressively about feelings that are still buried in the people feeling them. It's like she's calling up from the most private parts of their souls, trying to release something that could potentially stay muted forever.

That struggle is devastating and gorgeous to hear.