Music

Let's Talk About Jim Cuddy

Few music nerds and snobs and people just exactly like me will take a serious listen to Jim Cuddy's latest record Skyscraper Soul. And I get that. In the irony-drenched anti-sentimental scene that is "I'm-a-music-freak", his stuff is basically impossible. And yet . . .

The word you're looking for is "cheesy".

As co-front man for Canada's alt-country institution Blue Rodeo, Jim Cuddy has always been at least a little bit cheesy. He loves sentimental stuff, is happy to sing about the very syrupy side of emotion, and doesn't seem much to care if he's hip at all.

I've always loved him for this, not because I'm drawn to the cheeseball sentiments he often revels in (I'm not), but because I see him as an uncommonly honest songwriter. I believe his open-heartedness, and trust that he isn't aiming for schmaltz as much as that he just is a bit of a schmaltzy kinda guy. In other words, he is authentically cheesy which, for reasons most entertainingly enumerated in Carl Wilson's book on Celine Dion, I tend to respect. So, there's that.

But, more importantly, he is an astonishingly gifted singer and pop songwriter. His hooks are infectious. A welcome cross between Rodney Crowell and Jackson Browne (and his songwriting kinda falls in between their approaches too, come to think of it), Cuddy will always be the Paul McCartney of the Blue Rodeo thing. Your mother's favourite Blue Rodeo guy, you know? But what makes him safe, sweet, and un-hip is precisely what makes him such an important and widely-revered artist in Canada. He appeals to a broad swath of the listening public, inspires countless musicians, and has the best voice in Canadian pop music since Richard Manuel. (Flame War!)

But yet, few music nerds and snobs and people just exactly like me will take a serious listen to his latest record Skyscraper Soul. And I get that. In the irony-drenched anti-sentimental scene that is "I'm-a-music-freak", his stuff is basically impossible. I mean, there's a song about the goddamn British royal wedding on there. And yet . . .

I think that's actually the best way in to this record. It is, finally, an amazingly sad, even bleak song, a song about the tragic hope of the working class, wrapped in an apparently joyful exterior (which is something at which Cuddy has always excelled -- see the old Blue Rodeo hit "Till I Am Myself Again", a sneakily dark pop song in the tradition of "Help"!). It's a Bruce Springsteen song dressed up like Ron Sexsmith.

"Wedding" is a song about a man who's looking around at the sadness, the loneliness, the failures that surround him (broken family, recession, empty nest, even the falling rain appears to be "making a mess of this whole town"), and trying to find some stability. The reason that he figured "everyone watched the wedding" is that people, like him, are desperate for an escape, a fantasy into which they can project themselves. And then "Monday we were back on the bus / Driving through the neighbourhoods and factories that are us".


As an interpretation of the massive popular appeal of the vestigial tail (especially in Canada!) that is the royal family and that ostentatious wedding amid the calamity of the 2008+ recession, this is pretty smart.

Skyscraper Soul is, simply, a complete record of grown-up uncool country-pop that sounds great all the way through. But, will we listen?

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Mixing some bland "alternate" and "film" versions of Whitney Houston's six songs included on The Bodyguard with exemplary live cuts, this latest posthumous collection for the singer focuses on pleasing hardcore fans and virtually no one else.

No matter how much it gets talked about, dissected, dismissed, or lionized, it's still damn near impossible to oversell the impact of Whitney Houston's rendition of "I Will Always Love You".

Keep reading... Show less
4
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image