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Music Picks

Music to Soothe Us in Troubled Times

Bush, sub-prime and Nancy Grace require good soft rock.

By Elaine Corden 27 Mar 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Elaine Corden regularly writes about music for The Tyee.

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Start with Feist, Chris Smith and Sufjan Stevens.

One of the things that sucks about being an aging music writer (besides having to apply that odious label to myself) is that one starts to find one's age in inverse proportion to one's tolerance for a disorganized racket. To wit, unless it's done in an artful manner, I'd really prefer that music not shout at me. Perhaps it's a reflection of the times -- much like how James Taylor, Carly Simon and their soft rock ilk became fashionable in the Vietnam-war era -- quiet non-confrontational singer-songwritering has been enjoying more space in my iPod of late, combating the barrage of bad news and economic blues on TV.

Short of a long vacation on an island with no Internet, soft rock is truly the only respite for a world-weary soul. Confronted with Nancy Grace's yelly, fear-mongering head? Combat it with a spin of Linda Ronstadt's Simple Dreams. And when you see the terrifying video of "cuddly" Republican nominee John McCain singing a little ditty about bombing Iran, bust out the Carole King.

Yes, rough, terroristic, sub-prime times somehow make soft rock acceptable. But we can't just dig up records from the past. While Iraq evokes Vietnam, and the sub-prime mortgage crisis is a disaster on par with the Nixon shocks, this crisis triggers its own plaintive singer-songwriters to softly lull us off the ledge.

You likely already know where to go. You can start with Feist, if you can separate yourself from the ad nauseum iPod ads featuring her song. She's arguably this generation's very own Carly Simon: an artist with the prowess to be weird and esoteric, but who has chosen to make simple, sing-able songs. Ditto Sufjan Stevens, and the countless other artists who sense that the mood of the world calls for a light touch. And while musical humans cannot survive on strummy songs sung in pleasant falsettos alone, certainly we could use something extra soothing to take on the savage beastliness of our current world.

For a homegrown effort, I recommend East Vancouver's Chris Smith, a generically named musician who makes music that is special, unique and charming. His bedsit music is smart enough to hold up to repeated listens, but serene enough not to arouse anything but the listener's pleasure centre. Though the Vancouver-based musician doesn't have an album out yet, check out "Samson Said," on his MySpace page, for a beautiful slice of what the 24-year-old can do. Paired perfectly with some horrible news story about religious fundamentalism, the shimmering "Samson" retells an old biblical love story in such a secular context that, before the song is through, you'll have almost forgotten that the leader of the free world has been hugging a stuffed bunny while the nation he leads collapses under him. Okay. You won't forget. But you'll have a soundtrack to weep to.

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