Here are two songs that when I first heard them back in 2010, I could swear were old James Taylor or Crosby, Stills and Nash songs I had somehow never heard.
Both these ballads were written and sung by a musician named Ray LaMontagne, who was in fact hugely influenced by Stephen Stills and other singer songwriters of the late 1960s and early 1970s, even though he himself wasn’t born until 1973.
Both songs are featured on his 2010 studio album “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise” and both received moderate airplay. “Beg, Steal or Borrow” was nominated for a Grammy (2010 Song of the Year) but did not win.
I love these songs because they’re so calming. I also find them both a bit melancholy and somehow nostalgic. Love the lyrics too!
“Peace Train” was a huge 1972 hit by singer songwriter Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam). He is actually Greek/Swedish and was raised in England and attended Catholic schools. Cat Stevens was one of the first “adult” musicians I loved when I was still in grade school, and “Peace Train” was one of my favorite songs from 1972.
I think there couldn’t be a better time to post this almost forgotten song, with the horrible things going on in our country (and the world) right now. Cat Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 and now devotes himself to philanthropic and educational causes and promoting peace. So much for Islam being a violent religion. That’s a stereotype due to a few fundamentalist extremists within Islam. There are loony fringes of all religions. Christianity is not immune and includes its own kind of terrorists driven by hatred and fear, and they’re right here in America.
Here is what he said immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks:
I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action. The Qur’an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims of this sorrowful moment.
He wrote this about his religion:
In Islam there is something called the principle of common good. What that means is that whenever one is confronted by something that is not mentioned in the scriptures, one must observe what benefit it can bring. Does it serve the common good, does it protect the spirit, and does it serve God? If the scholars see that it is something positive, they may well approve of what I’m doing.
Cat also continues to make music but it’s an avocation now, something he does because he loves making music. He has added Islamic music to his repertoire.
“Make You Better” by the Decemberists is a new song but sounds like a jangle-pop song from the early ’90s (think REM, They Might Be Giants, Gin Blossoms, etc.) I can’t stop listening to it. The harmonies are just beautiful. I’m not posting the official video because, frankly, I think it’s stupid and the intro makes no sense. But someone made this trippy “visualizer” and set it to the song so I’m using that. This song makes me cry.
Technically, it’s still Sunday, but in 3 minutes it will be Monday and according to my WordPress clock (which is 4 hours off) it’s been Monday for 3 hours and 57 minutes, so here’s the second installment in this series featuring music I like from the past.
This week’s selection is “City of New Orleans” by folk singer Arlo Guthrie.
From the Youtube entry for the video:
A hit for Guthrie on his 1972 album “Hobo’s Lullaby”, Peaking at # 18 on Billboard hot 100. The folk song was written by Steve Goodman, describing a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans on the Illinois Central Railroad’s City of New Orleans in bittersweet and nostalgic terms. Goodman got the idea while traveling on the Illinois Central line for a visit to his wife’s family. He performed the song for Arlo Guthrie in the Quiet Knight, a bar in Chicago, and Guthrie agreed to add it to his repertoire. The song is now more closely associated with him, although Goodman performed it until his death in 1984. The song has been recorded by numerous artists both in the US and Europe.
This folk-rock hit from the fall of 1972 has been largely forgotten, but it’s been covered by a lot of other artists over the years, because of its timeless Americana appeal. Even in its heyday, it evoked nostalgia. It was the kind of song your parents liked. Hell, even your grandparents could groove to it. Even in the early 1970s, who actually rode on trains? The rollicking chorus and old-timey Ragtime-esque piano riff evokes images of simpler, kinder times that probably never really existed but we like to think did. It’s sincere without being smarmy. The tempo is relaxing and rhythmic, like the long, slow train ride through the flyover states the lyrics describe.
At the end of the day, it’s just a really great song that almost makes you believe the milkman will be delivering fresh whole milk and eggs tomorrow morning, the smiling mailman will wave hello and whistle a tune, and America is still a great country. It’s all Mister Rodgers Neighborhood and clean cotton sheets blowing in the wind out back, and even a cynic like me can get down with that.