Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #1

If you've come to this post from Largehearted Boy, this is the proper link

If you've somehow missed all our trails, what this is is every day in November a different writer, one whom we trust implicitly, will be recommending a song that they reckon everyone should hear - to that end, leave comments on them all should the mood take you. And where better to start than with the choice of slightly dour and generally unreliable blogger Sweeping The Nation:

David Ackles - Waiting For The Moving Van

There are many things that confuse us about the ley lines of popular music, but even in our quieter moments when we become more aware of ourselves one of those that continually vexes us is precisely how David Ackles isn't now feted as one of the great cult singer-songwriters. It's not for the want of others trying - Elton John said in 1971 that he should be as big a star as he himself was becoming, Joni Mitchell invited him along as tour support, Phil Collins picked one of his songs on Desert Island Discs, Elvis Costello cited him as an influence in his Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame speech. His 1972 album American Gothic, from which this comes, was produced by Bernie Taupin, arranged by Robert Kirby and featured members of the London Symphony Orchestra, so it wasn't as if Elektra didn't put the effort in, but it remains an album as frustratingly undervalued as it is still singular. Notably Ackles was living in England at the time, noting in the liner notes that "it seems like you get a sharper perspective on your own country when you're away from it".

Ready for some world class pseudism? Good, because the Ackles approach demands it, being, even in the early 70s theatrical melting pot, adventurous by the standards of mature pop music. Musically it unashamedly channels Bernstein and Brecht & Weill with a country-soul-folk vein and within an elegant quasi-symphonic patchwork (one reviewer called it "the Sgt Pepper of folk"), while lyrically Ackles, who possessed an unrepossessingly warm, empathetic voice, takes on the mantle of the great middle American sociological observer, poetically lamentational and at times smilingly cynical but ultimately admitting as much to himself as the listener that this is how life is, making him a kind of positivist Scott Walker. The people who inhabit the songs exhibit world-weariness in a way that laces them with often romantic optimism for the future. Every so often he'll dwell in a moment of satirical irony, then drop in a lyric that breaks your heart, Ackles having a way of demonstrating his ideal that it's memories and imagery of better things that keep us hanging on. It was introduced to us four years or so ago as one of those rare records that could genuinely move us. They were right.

Really, we could have gone anywhere on the album - if you like this, track down the genuinely heartbreaking Love's Enough, the sucker punch of One Night Stand, the ridiculous cabaret underpinned with Vietnam satire Ballad Of The Ship Of State or the remarkable ten-minute closer Montana Song, where Ackles laments a forgotten countryside and a long-buried generation of American Dream chasers. The track we've chosen, if one of its more explicable songs, strips the occasionally Brechtian levels of dramaticism right back to tell the almost unbearably well drawn story of a man moving out of his home and his previous married life, wondering to himself about what will happen to the features he's leaving behind while trying not to think of everything else that's being left. It's an incredibly emotionally arresting song, an image of attempting to be dignified against reality's odds, mirrored by the gentle arrangement offsetting the grimness. Ackles recorded one more full scale album, as unsuccessful as the first three, before moving into teaching and writing for the stage, and died of lung cancer in 1999. Everything he wrote about lives on.


LB said...

well, I can't say I have heard anything by him before, but I really like that song. Excellent first choice.

swisslet said...

I must admit that I haven't listened to this yet, but I am intrigued at the idea of a "positivist Scott Walker".

Wow. I'm not sure I can imagine such a thing.


swisslet said...

ok - I've listened to this now, and it's **ACE**

great choice.

Simon said...

Just because we can write florid comparative prose doesn't mean we're any good at it, of course... Glad this is getting a positive reaction - both ourselves and the friend who introduced us to the album have almost a 100% hit rate on him.

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