PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Christy McWilson: Bed of Roses

Barbara Flaska

Christy Mcwilson

Bed of Roses

Label: Hightone
US Release Date: 2002-03-19
UK Release Date: 2002-05-20
Amazon
iTunes

Christy McWilson is often described as the queen of Seattle alt.country. While it's true her version of country is not anyone's idea of Nashville (for one thing, her voice is too good, absolutely angelic riding above a staunch rockabilly ensemble), it's still a bit unfair to push a talent like McWilson to the edges like that. More especially so when attempting to come to terms with Bed of Roses, her second release and a genuinely inspired collaboration with Dave Alvin. A gifted songwriter, McWilson wrote 10 of the album's 12 tracks in her own tough idiosyncratic roots style.

Her writing voice doesn't strike me as a pose, but her style of talking about life brings into question commonly held conventions. She sometimes exposes the modern superwoman myth (cheerfully juggling the demands of wife-mother-career without working up a bead of emotional sweat) as just that, a myth other people perpetuate. For those who maintain women (or men) are obliged to believe that living happily ever after necessarily follows saying "I do", McWilson could be as socially confusing as a stranger who reminds a woman of community property rights after hearing a couple quarrel in public. Male critics nearly without exception write cluelessly about McWilson's music, and quickly diagnose her as suffering from some female complaint, not as bad as on-the-rag, but maybe she's depressed. Or maybe, they opine, she's not depressed, because she sure sounds breezy so it can't be that serious. The reality might be that girls get a little burned out sometimes, even when they're doing all the things they thought they wanted to do and still want to do. Christy McWilson appeared as back-up singer "Crispy" McWilson on some Young Fresh Fellows records. For her own outings, she writes and sings darn good songs that many people can understand.

In "Life's Little Enormities", she confesses that the possible joys of having children naturally mixes with the terror, acknowledging the lifetime of responsibilities and uncertainties when bringing another life into the world. Perhaps more daunting when both parents work as musicians and with what that lifestyle sometimes entails. But McWilson lyrically addresses these issues in a charming and intelligent manner. Her feelings are expressed musically by a slightly weird and humorous arrangement of a genre-splicing psychedelicized folk-rock experiment. It was gentle folk-rock, remember, that first rocked the Beatles out of their number one slots on American airwaves and sales. And of all the new popular genres to arise, it was gentle folk-rock that first spoke most simply, directly, and honestly about the growing pangs of confusion about society's demands and alienation from mainstream thought.

As soon as "Life's Little Enormities" kicks in with a psychedelic-style guitar that sets the musical era, McWilson sings her silky way along through the bouncy track, lyrically talking about her motherhood and children in rich simile. "They fell from the heavens like a fate I couldn't dodge / The bundles of joy clasped to my chest like a corsage / I stand like a giant with a world around my knees / Life's little enormities". When she also shares the realization that "Even a redwood can be toppled by a breeze" is also one of life's little enormities, it soon becomes obvious this tune isn't just rock-a-bye-billy nor strictly speaking pop. The chorus verse ascends with the recognizable harmonies of the Mamas and the Papas, and the vision of the great round earth mother and her musical companions is suddenly complete. Quirky humor becomes bent, more especially if you've seen any of the tabloid accounts of the Mamas and Papas horrific approach to child-rearing. There's a tape loop of a backwards guitar solo in the middle of the song that initially hearkens back the Beatles of the era ("She Said She Said"), reminding us any trip can go bad. These complex reactions to the realities of raising families might be a more current topic of concern now that families are about to be legislated.

McWilson's cover of Moby Grape's "8:05", with Dave Alvin's deep bass voice rumbling beneath in duet, is currently receiving the most air play. Apparently it's all right to express abject deep misery in a love song, as that's somehow predictable and easily understood. On the other hand, McWilson's own lyrical mood piece "Sheep Song" inexplicably presents the most challenge to the critics. Even though the reason for her brooding isn't pinpointed, the song is such an effective and evocative moodscape. Her expressive imagery is pulled straight from nature, and is eloquent in simplicity. "The dog barks at nothing / And the cat sleeps all day / Sometimes I worry / I'm headed that way".

Everybody of a certain age remembers the song the Youngbloods made famous back when Reagan was somehow elected Governor of California just as our country became further mired in a bloody war overseas. The Youngbloods soared out a melody that captured the spirit of times perfectly and soon seemed symbolic if not anthemic for an entire generation. You're probably thinking, "Come on people, now, let's get together . . . " but the one I mean is "Darkness, Darkness". On this version, Alvin's fuzzy Telecaster provides the swirling dark introduction. McWilson's voice is perfectly suited for this song, especially the echoing out-of-phase voice-overs, naturally possessing a mixture of fragility and passion that can seldom be expressed by the same voice. One vocal effect not reduplicated is Jesse Colin Young's phrasing using Middle Eastern voice stylings, but it's kind of there if any of us heard the original and are remembering comparatively.

On this shimmering presentation called Bed of Roses, we learn again that life is true to nature and there are more thorns than blossoms. Accepting that reality accounts for the steely determination heard throughout all of McWilson's songs. But there are also some upbeat numbers as full of sweet yearning as true grit, holding out a determined hope for what is best in spite of it all. The swinging "True Believer" is rocked along by the effortless glide of solid rockabilly, "Deep in the night I can hear you crying / The pain in the world is mystifying / But somehow I still want to believe in love".

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.