Come and put your needle on my record
There’s some words I think you might like to hear
Why don’t you come and see what kind of trouble we can get in tonight?
Katie here, and I’ve got to say, writing these weekly posts has been really therapeutic for me in a lot of ways. Anyone who is reading these posts and recognizes my name at all probably just remembers my blog— long abandoned now— Katie Darby Recommends. I only bring this up because when I started working towards tenure (in my day job, I have another ridiculously sweet deal as a creative writing professor), I forgot how to look for new music.
Please believe me when I say, the first time I heard Erica Blinn’s clear Lucinda Williams-register voice burst out of my speaker, I felt the excitement and relief of discovery again. Better than Gold is one of the best records I’ve heard all year, and I’ll be shocked if she’s not part of the national music conversation soon. From start to finish, it’s a journey from— well, the first track, which is quoted above, her “Softer Side” through her “Gypsy” life (which, delightfully, feels like a reversal of The Faces’ “Stay With Me”— assuring him that, no, she won’t be there in the morning), and finally, telling us in a parenthetical song title that she does what she wants. It’s a rollicking, fun, loud record. You can turn this one up.
“Fun” is great, but that’s not what really gets me excited. Great writing and incredible musicianship is all over this record. Again, take “Softer Side”— there’s an electric guitar on the track aimed solely to create atmosphere, with long, bent notes played over whole lines of each part of the verse. It gives it, if a song can have a drawl, a drawl. Blinn never strays from her direct, clear delivery though: her voice is strength personified. And it’s playful, too: there’s an element of old school Sheryl Crow, Tuesday Night Music Club era. For example, in “When I’m With Suzie (I Do What I Want I Want)”:
Suzie and me, we sure have fun
We do a lot of things you might call dumb
We’re having a blast just raising our glass
And if you don’t like it— well, I didn’t ask
The obvious rhyme, the easy one, what anyone who listens to soul-tinged rock and country is waiting for, is “if you don’t like it, you can kiss my ass.” Well— Blinn really isn’t even that concerned with what you think. You know what’s special about that? People who create are often crippled by anxiety about how they’ll be perceived and whether or not what they’re doing is any good. Blinn, who has horns all over this track, a messy, Stonesy guitar solo outro, and an unrepentant rock ‘n’ roll flair to boot, won’t ever be paralyzed by the court of public opinion. And that means the art feels genuine and sincere and connective because it is all of those things.
The single, “Big Chief and The Medicine Man,” pits two characters against each other— in three minutes, they go from confidants and friends to antagonistic, Big Chief threatening the Medicine Man. In those early parts of the song, it is so rock and roll and rambling that it feels like we really are about to run up on a murder:
Think on your feet cause you’re under the gun
Looks like trouble has just begun
Big Chief said to Medicine Man
You failed me once, you won’t do it again
When the moon is round, that’ll be your end
Unless you can fix this mess I’m in…
She rolls back into the chorus like a thunderstorm and then the music quiets, giving Medicine Man a moment to meditate and think about the situation he’s in: “Big Chief’s gonna take my life in his hands/ Give me a sign, tell me what’ll I do?/ Then a vision came across like a moccasin shoe.” When the chorus picks back up, we have the momentum and jangle of the earlier moments, but the last line is different, and assures us “Medicine Man has won.” I teach a class where we do a unit on murder ballads (did I mention it’s a sweet deal?) and we go all the way from Doc Watson’s “Omie Wise” to Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.” I can’t tell you how unique and fun Blinn’s take on the old standard rock and country standard is— there is almost never a song where both characters are men and one escapes.
But Blinn allows for escape in every song. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to her, so instantly. She’s got this incredible ability to draw you in, and then promise you she’s leaving in the morning. Her softer ballads, the sadder songs— there isn’t ever any blame, just sadness and acceptance. The faster songs, the love songs— they’re exciting and witty. I understand she loves her gypsy life, and I am listening when she tells me she does what she wants, but man, when you listen to this record, you don’t ever want her to leave.
Erica on the webs
on the Faced Book