the other me might even be better than this one

From Costello to Crane Wives

January 31, 2021 — Gideon Mayhak


I'm happy to bring reminiscences of an artist enjoyed by generations of Mayhaks, along with a band Sarah and I discovered together. This one encompasses quite a few discs from the collection considering it only covers two distinct artists and nine albums. Lots of "deluxe editions".

The Cs, part 3

Elvis Costello

One of the great things for me about diving into Elvis Costello's back catalog was the fact many of his albums have received two-disc rereleases from Rhino that include tons of extra tracks. Along with thick booklets including historical context from the man himself, these give a lot of backstory for someone late to the party. Not to mention the early home demos that show he had quite the knack for clever lyrics rivaling Bob Dylan from the get-go (including lines that were reused in later songs).

I have the Rhino releases of Costello's first four albums, My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, and Get Happy!!. I then skipped ahead and picked up Spike (more on that jump later). You can see where this is going: I'll eventually get around to tracking down the rest of the Rhino rereleases.

As with many in my collection, I first heard Costello's big hits on the radio as a kid. I also heard my dad playing and singing his favorites, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" and "Oliver's Army" being chief among them.

I really have to credit my dad as the primary reason I fell in love with Costello's music. Combined with the inclusion of a few tracks in Dad's open mic repertoire, he also picked up a single-disc copy of The Very Best of Elvis Costello (I think at a garage sale) that I proceeded to listen to more than he did. A little bit later, Dad also picked up Spike on cassette so he could learn "Veronica" and once again I listened to that cassette in its entirety a lot more than he did. That's why I picked up Spike before some of the earlier albums.

Costello's lyrics are rivaled only by the Beat when it comes to snarkiness and double entendre in my collection. But along with the 'tude and suggestive content, there's a lot of depth and maturity. Pair that with some incredible musicians (thanks to the Attractions more often than not), and you've got winner after winner.

My goodness, I forgot how good the bass is in "Goon Squad"! Bruce Thomas is incredible.

Another artist that knows how to open and close an album, Costello starts This Year's Model with a crash and finishes it with an anthem. Armed Forces, possibly my favorite, opens with a cry and closes with a plea. I could go on, but I think the same principle applies to most of his albums.

I stand accused of missing some of my favorites among the current set of discs: it's been a while since I last heard "Clubland" or "Indoor Fireworks". Nevertheless, it only takes listening to any one of these for me to get happy.

The Crane Wives

Sarah and I first heard the Crane Wives at McMillan Memorial Library in Wisconsin Rapids after being invited to their show by my best man, Alex. We were also joined by Sarah's dear friend Anne and Alex's Sam. McMillan has hosted a lot of great musicians over the years, but this topped my list.

A foursome, they were all breathtaking in their own right. Emilee Petersmark and Kate Pillsbury could easily stand as solo artists each: amazing voices, creative and skillful guitar playing. Dan Rickabus made a reduced set of drums sound like so much more than the sum of its parts, and his contribution to vocal harmonies filled things out beautifully. And then Ben Zito--that's right, the bass player--blew me away on his fretless Gibson, occasionally adding in some fuzz when the mood called for it.

The library performance was an intimate affair, with the ladies telling stories between songs and answering questions from the audience. The whole experience was magical, and I wanted to relive it over and over. Sarah and I proceeded to buy the three CDs they had on hand and a shirt while I asked Zito about his bass.

Thankfully, their studio recordings are very good. Sure, it's hard to stand up against the performance we'd witnessed; but these will do. They have that knack for opening and closing the discs well, too.

Their first album, Safe Ship, Harbored, immediately shows their skill in songwriting. Add to that bouncy and unique bass lines and flawless harmonies, and it's a wonder they're not more well-known by now. It's not often a band's initial offering is this solid.

The second album, The Fool in Her Wedding Gown, is the one we didn't get at the library. It's harder to come by in CD form, and I emailed the band to see if they had any extra copies. I got a personal reply from Zito, unfortunately telling me they don't have any left. I was able to track one down elsewhere, but the album is also available to stream online. It is such a good recording and continues the level of quality they'd established with Safe Ship, but it is a more angry record than the others.

The third and fourth albums, Coyote Stories and Foxlore, feel like they could be two discs of a double album. They share the same production value (an improvement over their earlier recordings), and the artwork connects them visually. Here we hear them maturing and continuing to perfect what makes them so good.

More recently, they've released a live album. Here I Am is available online for now, but I hope it eventually sees a CD release for people like me. You can also find quite a few live recordings on the Live Music Archive.

And live is where the Crane Wives shine brightest. I can't recommend them enough. As soon as you're able to safely see them, please do.

Join us again...

We'll see if I can manage to get back into a rhythm with these posts. Perhaps a 909 would help.

"I chattered like a swallow or a crane.
I moaned like a dove."

Isaiah 38:14a, WEB

Tags: cd-listening, meet-the-mayhaks, music