Here’s someone I don’t care for in the least: Jonathan Schwartz. Schwartz hosts the weekend afternoon block on WNYC, playing showtunes, old time country and jazz songs, and the occasional rock number. I like a lot of the music he plays, but the way he waxes nostalgic about everything in a way which seems just as much about him talking as it does about the music (How many times does he have to say a Pasty Cline song is exquisite? Apparently, three times.) (Although, I’ll be honest, the exact same criticism could be leveled about this blog).
But occasionally, he unearths something from the ton-heavy stacks of vinyl he almost certains roots through, puts it on, and creates a moment that feels perfect. He’s telling you a secret when he puts on a record like that. Well, here’s one he got right.
Most people know Peggy Lee from her torch songs, the sardonic “Is That All There Is” or her clenched version of “Fever.” Well, with all credit due to Jonathan Schwartz, who played this song at the most incongruous time, a hot august afternoon, I present an inverse side of Miss Lee. “Me and My Shadow” is apparently an old standard, but after hearing Lee’s arrangement, I never want to hear another version. Her song echoes through sleeping stairwells in 1920s skyscrapers. The piano could almost be a song onto itself, and Lee’s voice captures this perfect, sexy loneliness. There is something untouchable about this song.
Living in New York, one might find it strange that I constantly find myself pining for Chicago, which has longer, grayer winters and worse mass transit than my current metropolis. But there is something I miss about it, call it the underdog spirit (and call me labeling Chicago a city with underground spirit merely projection, if you must), and the palpable sense of community that the city posses. There’s something about the way you enter through the city from cornfields across one of the ugliest bridges in our great country, and suddenly you’re wrapped around a metropolis, a delta for all the lost and wandering from all the surrounding, flat, windy states.
Flannery O’Connor’s controversial story “The Artificial Nigger,” about a grandfather desperately trying to interact with a son going up in a changed time, takes place in Chicago, with the city highlighting the racism of the grandfather who hates the city deeplys as if by reflex and the discomfort of the son, whose experience outside of the small town he is from simply muddles the image of his grandfather in his mind. Sherwood Anderson’s protagonist in Winesburg, Ohio, ultimately breaks out of his small town and ends the book dreaming on a train towards the midwestern Xanadu: Chicago, just like Anderson himself was able to do.
Coltrane Motion overlap perfectly with their hometown of Chicago. The duo merge tablesaw guitars with almost-club ready beats, coats the whole thing in brass polish and puts it on a pedestal under the leaky glass of the Garfield Conservatory. The band solder the organic and the electronic, and match those sounds with lyrics which stamp down platitudes in favor of actual narratives. You get the feeling that Michael Bond and Matt Dennewitz live in Chicago, but are maybe from somewhere else. They capture both the intimacy and grandeur of their city, but also the rough, flat region that their city lies upon.
There’s a great mix of self confidence and playfulness in Coltrane Motion’s songs. Hello Ambition boasts songs titled “Please Call it a Comeback,” “My Heart Might Go On,” and “When We Were Old.” Singer Michael Bond’s voice is limited, but it’s also elastic, a little drunk sounding, a little nostalgic, and he uses it well, imbuing these songs with a joint cracking immediacy.
The great thing about Hello Ambition, the band’s new album, is, well, how end to end great it is. Normally when I get a new album and want to tell the internet about it, I can think of one or two tracks that really illustrate the point I’m trying to make. On Hello Ambition, I can’t. They’re all good songs. They all feel earnest and human, despite the distortion and blips they are composed of. They feel as windy as the largely inaccurate nickname for their hometown, and they feel as self contained and complementary to one another as the Chicago Skyline viewed from the Indiana Dunes. There’s not a single song to skip over on the entirety of the album. If the band were any more popular and I weren’t worried about art and commerce and all that hoo-ha, i’d give you the whole album. but alas, these two will have to suffice.
Also, for everyone in New York City this friday, There is a SENSATIONAL triple bill (Marnie Stern, Anni Rossi, and White Hinterland) happening at Glasslands.