Road Music: Driving Texas' Interstate Highways

by Jeff Siegel

Freelance assignments took me to Abilene and Austin the past couple of weekends, which meant driving more than 800 miles over a four-day period. And, given the pathetic state of radio (well-documented here on the iVoryTowerz blog), that meant I had to tune myself up.

A few thoughts on what I listened to (and played very loudly):

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited. Nine songs, each indispensable to rock 'n' roll. Who else but Dylan could assemble a band that included Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper and get a total that was greater than the sum of its parts, considering how good those parts were? Kooper's organ work is justly famous, but Bloomfield's guitar work ("Tombstone Blues," in particular) may be even more impressive.

Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather. This was a critical disappointment when it came out last year, which I never understood. It's a more distant record than Fountains of Wayne or Utopia Parkway, but I think it's supposed to be. Frontman Adam Schlesinger understands 21st century young men — the 20- and 30-somethings who wear their caps backwards — so well that it's scary.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Living with the Living. Anyone who doubts how corrupt radio has become needs to listen to this. Why Leo and his band aren't huge is more than I can figure out. Imagine a band that's one part Clash, one part American sensibility, and one part very angry sense of humor. "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb." is a joke, isn't it?

The Temptations, Number 1's. This is a collection of 19 of the band's No. 1 singles, which makes for great road music (though I don't advise boogeying to "I Can't Get Next to You" when there's a lot of traffic). Two caveats, though: The liner notes are almost non-existent, and some of the Temps' best songs, like "Cloud Nine," aren't here because they never made No. 1.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Armed Forces. This is the Rykodisc reissue of the 1979 British release, with the elephant cover and one more song than the U.S. version. There are also the usual CD extras, which oddly don't add much. After you listen to "Oliver's Army" or "Moods for Moderns," what's the point of hearing Elvis do "My Funny Valentine?"

Woody Allen, Standup Comic. It took me almost 20 years to appreciate Allen, because I didn't understand that he was embracing his nebbishness, not trying to make it hip. These live recordings from 1964, 1965, and 1968, compiled by Rhino and edited by Allen, haven't dated a bit. The highlights include "Oral Contraception" (Jerry Seinfeld should hope to be half this funny), "The Great Renaldo," and "The Moose."

(The photo shows the interchange of U.S. Hwy. 75 and I-635 in north Dallas; the photo is by dherrera_96 of Albuquerque, NM via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see Ted Leo & the Pharmacists perform a live version of "Who Do You Love?" from Living with the Living at a concert in Providence, RI in 2007, please check below.)

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