Monday, December 8, 2014

Gut Feeling: Frank Turner - The Third Three Years

Frank Turner - The Third Three Years
Xtra Mile, 2014
The Third Three Years is Turner’s third (THIRD!) collection of b-sides and rarities, and it’s a delightful mixed bag of original tunes, collaborations, and a whole shitload of covers songs. Even though Billy Bragg is still alive, Frank Turner still seems to have wrested the torch from his hands. At his best--which is, seemingly, most of the time--Turner achieves the blend of brainy, witty, political and soulful that Bragg perfected in the 80s. Phil Ochs is dead, so I feel more comfortable saying that Turner is carrying his torch too (especially on the straight-up political numbers like “Riot Song” and “Something of Freedom”). Turner’s covers selection is best illustrated by the juxtaposition of the Weakerthans’ “Bigfoot!” and Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Live and Let Die” at the heart of the album. He turns two of the greatest capital A American rock songs (Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”) into quiet guy-and-a-guitar folk songs to great effect. The most profound moment of this compilation is nestled in the Tony Sly cover “Kiera.” Sly wrote the song for his daughter and here it is recorded for a tribute album where all the money goes to the Tony Sly Memorial Fund. Even if I wasn’t a father, and even if I didn’t have to face those grim thoughts about not being around to watch her grow up, I’d still probably get emotional. But since I have those last two things, Jesus Christ. The song feels like it was written posthumously, with lines like, “Maybe I’m no good at this/ Think of this as a lullaby/ To listen to when I go.” The track was recorded on a rainy day off of a busy street with the window open and it’s intense and beautiful. Turner does a terrific job of taking the focus off of himself (even though his version is better than Sly’s original) and highlighting a great songwriter who was largely unheralded because he operated in the oft thumb-nosed pop-punk genre. It’s a stirring tribute, a beautiful song, and the highlight on an album full of highlights. Also of note is one of the best live track’s I’ve ever heard in “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” where Turner turns big swaths of the vocals over to the audience who pounce and sing at top volume. It’s a great song, but an even greater portrait of an artist’s relationship with his fans. You don’t need an explanation, you can feel it. The energy in that room (the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, one of my favorite venues!) I can feel myself getting carried away. This is what chasing the dragon is for a music nerd. Constantly looking for that next artist who’s gonna blow your dick off. Constantly looking for another rabbit hole to disappear down. This compilation is just so much FUN. I mean, it OPENS with a Queen cover! WHO DOES THAT!? And then there’s just so many truths nestled within. “You were born into freedom so you don’t know its worth/ And you constantly speak of solutions/ But you only repeat revolutions,” Turner sings in “Something of Freedom.” And this is a B-SIDE! B-SIDE GODDAMNIT! I’m quivering with excitement at a complete discography to excavate. This is the life-affirming music I live for.

"Kiera" (Tony Sly Cover)

"Hits & Mrs." - I immediately funneled this one to the running playlist of sweet songs I have to put on mixes for my wife. A straight-up less-than-three. Hilariously, Hits & Mrs. was the name of Pete Rose's 2013 reality show. I wish that was a joke, but it's funnier that it's not. 

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