More proof that the greatest love songs come from the least likely sources at times, Billy Bragg’s “The Price I Pay” is one of my favorite relationship songs, in part because of the heartbroken lyrics (“There’s something inside/That hurts my foolish pride/To visit the places that we used to go together”) and in part because of the wonderful arrangement that pushes Cara Tivey’s piano to the fore, and lets her backing vocals provide a gentle counterpoint to the ungainliness of Bragg’s own singing. This is a beautiful song, despite an accidentally ugly lead vocal and awkwardly loping, looping melody; it’s all because you can tell that the whole thing is heartfelt and honest, and that always wins the day.
Terry Callier died this weekend. I never really knew his work, but this duet with Beth Orton, covering Fred Neil’s “Dolphins,” remains one of my favorite recordings ever made; there’s something about his vocals in here, how comforting, how rich and warm they sound. Orton’s own vocals dance around Callier’s; he grounds the performance, and provides the world for her to return to.
I love “Dolphins,” as a song, but often find the performances from various artists to be disappointing. Even Neil’s original doesn’t sound quite “right,” somehow. There’s something about the interplay of Callier and Orton’s voices, about the folk/jazz accompaniment (Those vibes!) that backs them up, that fulfills the song’s potential as nothing else I’ve heard actually managed. Maybe I should hunt down Callier’s earlier catalog and see what other favorites he worked his magic on, as well.
I am, again, horribly behind with keeping vaguely current with 366 Songs. So, again, here’s lots of music with even less writing than usual.
Billy Bragg is the sound of the 1980s for me; the late ’80s, admittedly, like, maybe 1988, ’89? But he was someone that my older sister was into for awhile, and so I heard a lot of his stuff and it sunk into me without my realizing it. I got into him for myself, years later, when he released his Don’t Try This At Home album, and worked backwards. When I heard this song again, back then, and actually listened to the lyrics for the first time, I realized that this was the kind of awkward, stumbling poetry that I wished I could write. “If your bed is wet/I will dry your tears,” indeed.