Few, if any, Oklahoma bands have seen a rise as meteoric as Tallows over the past year, yet its seemingly overnight ascension didn’t happen by chance. The Oklahoma City four-piece is well-versed in the ways of modern pop songwriting, drawing from both glitchy electronica and cathartic indie rock in equal measure. Last year, the band pulled off a rare musical feat with its debut album, Memory Marrow, which was steeped heavily in the breadth of recent history yet managed to sound like nothing else before it.
Chelsey Cope’s new band, Elms, is as earthy and native to Oklahoma as the trees that are their namesake. The soulful folk four-piece’s debut EP, Parallel Lines, was recorded at Bell Labs Recording Studio in Norman and is on its way in September. But the band has already given us a tease, with its first single, “Burn,” going live on SoundCloud on July 14.
I’ve got a huge respect for anybody who, at 70 (or more) years old, still gets around and plays shows, and I approached these four albums — his fifth through eighth solo records, all released on Warner Bros. — with due reverence. They’re newly available in remastered editions, each with a bonus disc of rarities. The lone Grammy winner among them — the five-times-platinum “Graceland,” of course — still stands out among the bunch, as vibrant and engaging now as it was when public ears first heard its South African mbaqanga cyclic dancing style in 1986. The sound is pervasive throughout this series of discs, starting with 1980’s “One Trick Pony,” the soundtrack to the film of the same name, in which he starred. His big hit from that record, “Late in the Evening,” could be misconstrued as reggae-influenced, but it’s definitely an earlier harbinger of what would grown into the full-blown tribal roots-pop of “You Can Call Me Al.”
Nowadays, most people point to Simon when discussions about Vampire Weekend arise, mainly for his Afro-pop melding. Imagining Rostam Batmanglij’s parents playing “Proof” for him is just all too easy. I think that the joyful, optimistic tones of these songs get omitted too often from these conversations, and that it takes a pretty talented guy to foster a such hope in songs like “Homeless” that have really dire, tragic lyrics.
Simon, of course, was also well-known for writing lyrics better than most anybody else, and there are a few handfuls of terrific ones in here. I’ll list a few:
• “Negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same.” —“Train in the Distance,” from “Hearts & Bones”
• “In the bottles and the bones of the night / I felt a pain in my shoulder blade / Like a pencil point? A love bite?” —“Can’t Run But” from “Rhythm of the Saints”
• the story about drinking and playing songs with some guy in a bar when they’d heard John Lennon died. —“The Late Great Johnny Ace” on “Hearts and Bones”]
• “Free to wander wherever they choose / Are traveling together / In the Sangre de Cristo / The Blood of Christ Mountains / Of New Mexico” —“Hearts and Bones”’ title track
There’s also something to be said for the increased clarity of these remastered CDs. Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s opening a cappella on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is so much more distinct that it almost feels like your brain is translating the act’s South African language for you.
A great touch to a great American treasure in “Graceland,” and the same applied to a few really solid Simon albums. I think “Hearts and Bones” really ranks up there with some of the greatest pastoral stuff he ever recorded, and “The Rhythm of the Saints” is definitely a good listen all the way through. “One Trick Pony” is definitely passable and possessive of highlights (“That’s Why God Made the Movies” and “God Bless the Absentee”) ,but it’s a bit behind the rest here. Afro-folk-pop-rock on, Paul.