Normal History Vol. 492: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

There’s something about these two songs together. “Her Ambition” and a song by Spider And The Webs called “Leaving Lawrence (To His Waves)” about feminist Sheila Rowbotham, who, as Tobi Vail sings, had a surfer boyfriend “she left behind to start the women’s liberation movement.”

I first heard it when Tobi dedicated it to me at a show in Portland. It’s kind of like where “Her Ambition” was going, but I neglected to give my character the exit door. Perhaps she found it on her own. Let’s say she did.

Her Ambition
She used to work days at the counter
he sunken cheeks
paint flecks on his clothes
rubbed the dust from his hair
and went down to meet her
together they drove home

Her ambition faded
Her ambition slipped away

After that she used to work part time in an office
he built things that other people wanted
he couldn’t keep them for himself
he paid exactly half their bills

She began to move like him
and picked up all his habits

He developed a fondness for rare wood from mainland China
any extra time he had he spent sharpening his tools

Her ambition faded
Her ambition slipped away

She can’t stop the dullness
something slowly rotting in her box of souvenirs
she finds a token of her ambition
and rolls it in her hands
she rolls it in her hands
and like her plans like her desire—it disappears
it disappears

Her ambition faded
Her ambition slipped away

“Her Ambition” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

MP3 At 3PM: Lauren Housley

Lauren Housley has had a passion for singing and songwriting since she was just 14. In the past two years, the U.K.-based “Americana” artist has released two albums and is getting ready to issue a new EP. But for right now, there’s great new single “My Sleeping Heart,” a song inspired by a trip to Nashville last year. Collaborating with Thomas Dibb, Housley wrote the track after meeting and talking to a broken-hearted man in a bar while in Music City for the Americana Music Festival. Stream and/or download “My Sleeping Heart” now.

“My Sleeping Heart” (download):

Normal History Vol. 491: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Listening to this, transcribing the lyrics (for a book of all my lyrics), I’m in awe of Peter Jefferies’ drums and David Lester’s guitar.

The song is about community borne out of necessity, working together unexpectedly on projects of great magnitude and staggering importance. Individuals organizing themselves, like ants in convoluted mazes, breathing in the dark. A unified force against tyranny.

I sometimes wish I hadn’t opted for ambiguity at the height of our powers, but …. one thing about a poetic sensibility is that it makes it easy to re-frame the meaning at a later date. Like today for instance.

The song even references “listening to another world’s future” in which we say as loud and clear as ever: Unity Defeats Tyrants

Breathing In The Dark
Have you ever tried to dig straight through
to the other side of the world
lost before I knew it
passing the ones who stopped at the oddest times
others stopped halfway

Listening to another world’s future
breathing in the dark

Who is behind you
on the way?

Who is behind you
on the way?

Translators aren’t sure they understand this language
listening to another world’s future
breathing in the dark

Who is behind you
on the way?

Breathing in the dark

“Breathing In The Dark” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

MP3 At 3PM: Summer Magic

“Hey!”—Summer Magic’s new single—will have you imagining yourself driving down a coastal highway in California, feeling the, well, summer magic. The St. Louis-based “band” is basically Kevin Bachmann (Lapush, Troubadour Dali, Jon Hardy & The Public), who worked on his debut album with David Beeman (Pokey Lafarge, Tristen) and David Vandervelde (Father John Misty). Sharks And Other Dangers isn’t out until August 31, but you can get a sneak peak of it by listening to opener “Hey!” now.

“Hey!” (download):

Normal History Vol. 490: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Gravity Believes
The crows are flying back from the sun
like an answer
stated every day

I’m not sure if it’s an answer
to a question or a problem

The directions are half-written disappointments
again

Some things can be left without solution

The sun smells sweet without emotion
The slow days will take us together
I’ll pay you what I want to owe
I expect you to give me what I want

Sick of land faith on mile
Sick of gravity’s sheen
Sunday at noon believing we can’t fly
Sheer pink in a thousand summer’s eyes grey edges

Some things can be left without solution
without solution

“Gravity Believes” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

MP3 At 3PM: The Black Watch

The Black Watch just released Witches! (Atom), its 16th album, produced by Scott Campbell (Stevie Nicks, Shelby Lynne, Acetone). Clearly, the band has already released a ton of music over the past 21 years, but John Andrew Fredrick, the Blacks Watch’s frontman and only constant member, says he just “cannot stop making things.” And as longtime fans, we’re certainly not complaining! Stream and/or download the LP’s first single, “Georgette, Georgette,” right here, right now.

“Georgette, Georgette” (download):

Normal History Vol. 489: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Cyclone” was written on the spot in a studio in Germany after the utterly fantastic Fast Forward Festival in Holland in 1994. I definitely recall feeling on the spot, which is not usually the case when I write lyrics while tape is rolling, but here, I remember feeling like I was falling short while I was singing “This is the day,” and now years later, I’d like to acknowledge that any time a song of mine has the word “day” in it is a sign of struggling with lyrics. At least I resisted adding “say” and “way” … Cripes, we even have a song called “Days” … God only knows what that’s about.

Yet, this is a fine enough song without me fulfilling the urge to whip it into a full-frenzied anthem about the plight of the world. It’s a buncha people in the studio fumbling through the infrastructure of the thing that we all love, aiming for a brilliant song that didn’t materialize, but could have. Always worth the risk. 

“Cyclone” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

MP3 At 3PM: Cliff Westfall

If a man is known by the company he keeps, then Cliff Westfall is a saint. Albeit in a country/rock sinner sort of way. The New York-based, Kentucky-bred singer/songwriter surrounded himself with a who’s-who of musicians’ musicians for new album Baby You Win. (Forgive us for the excessive use of parentheses in the following sentence.) For the dozen-track LP, Westfall enlisted co-producers Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Ramones, Antony And The Johnsons, Evan Dando, Phish) and Graham Norwood (Ward White), guitarist Scott Metzger (Shooter Jennings, Phil Lesh), pedal-steel player Dan Iead (Norah Jones, Valerie June), bassist Jeremy Chatzky (Ronnie Spector, Laura Cantrell), keyboardist Charles Giordano (Bruce Springsteen, Pat Benatar) and drummer David Christian (Danger Mouse, Helium). Recorded in just nine days, Baby You Win showcases Westfall’s keen ability to take the best bits of country and rock past and modernize (but not sterilize) them. Westfall will be playing August 19 with the Eilen Jewell Band at the Western Hotel in Callicoon, N.Y., but until then, you can check out album track “Sweet Tooth” right here, right now. Stream and/or download it below.

“Sweet Tooth” (download):

MP3 At 3PM: Russell Swallow

British singer/songwriter Russell Swallow has been a motivated musician ever since he bought his first guitar at age 14. Although it was kinda crappy and came from the Salvation Army, Russell still says it was the best £20 he’s ever spent. From this purchase came a career, one of making folktronica music that’s both poetic and soulful. Last year, Russell released the A.M.-B.P.M. EP (we proudly premiered its stellar “Don’t Sleep Through The Flood”), and now he has a brand-new single. Stream and/or download “My Lover, Her Lover And Me” below.

“My Lover, Her Lover And Me” (download):

Normal History Vol. 488: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

” … through seven albums over nine years, vocalist Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester have presented a consistent, evolving and luminous challenge to the reigning social order … ” —Rolling Stone, 1995

“Beppo’s Room” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):