Emeli Sande & Opinions on Low

UK singer-songwriter Emeli Sande performs live in the studio. And later, Jim and Greg review the latest from Minnesota slowcore band Low.

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Rock lost two behind-the-scenes heavyweights last week: America’s first rock critic Paul Williams, and record producer Phil Ramone. Williams launched Crawdaddy! magazine while still in college, beating Rolling Stone to the rock-criticism game by a year. Never one to dwell on the rock’s celebrity aspect, Williams found less commercial success than prot’eg’e Jann Wenner, but his intellectual criticism was an inspiration for rock critics to come (Jim and Greg included).

Phil Ramone’s contributions to classic records like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and The Band’s self-titled album made him a sought-after producer for over half a century. But Greg says it’s his work with Paul Simon that cements his reputation. Greg plays Simon’s Gone at Last in remembrance of Ramone.

Emeli Sande

Emeli Sande went from virtual unknown to performing at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremonies, and in between she penned songs for Leona Lewisand even Susan Boyle. She’s also made it her personal mission to put the poetry back in pop music. It’s a mission that has caught on in the U.K. Emeli received a Brit Critics Choice Award (previously won by Adele and Florence + the Machine) and was asked to open for Coldplay on a recent American tour. So Jim and Greg were eager to have this rising star perform in the studio. They describe her music as a mix of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill.

The Invisible Way Low

The Invisible Way

There’s a lot to be impressed by when it comes to Low. First, they’ve consistently made good records for two decades. Second, the two core members, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, have managed to do all that while maintaining a marriage and family. On the most recent Sub Pop release The Invisible Way, the band has tweaked the formula a bit, and for the better, according to Greg. Bassist Steve Garrington is playing a lot more piano. And Mimi is singing more. Greg loves her voice, especially on anthems like So Blue. Professor DeRogatis has always given Low a B+, but Jim thinks The Invisible Way is an A+ masterpiece. The songwriting, and especially the religious imagery, is deeper and more ambiguous giving Low a double Buy It.

Greg

After a recent experience seeing Emmylou Harris, Greg was reminded of the songwriting talent of the great Townes Van Zandt. Many, including Ms. Harris, have performed his song Pancho and Lefty, but it’s the Townes original that Greg wants to have with him on the island. The song tells the tale of two men living on the margins of society, and wonders who fares better: Pancho, who is betrayed and left to die, or Lefty, who is left alone livin in cheap hotels.

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