Long Songs: “Traces of the Western Slopes”

Ever since I began collecting vinyl in my college days, I loved long songs. Not endless jams, mind you. But significant musical pieces that really gave an artist a palette on which to paint a significant story.

Why? I listened to classical music, especially symphonies when I was younger. I was used to thirty, forty, sixty minutes to communicate something to me. In contrast, seven or more minutes is not so much to ask.

Rickie Lee Jones was one of my favorite singers from around 1980, give or take. I think her LP Pirates is an absolute masterpiece. (Discussed in this good interview.) Within her fairly broad realm of jazz-influenced pop, the songs are a curious amalgam of street tough and a fragile vulnerability. And amazing musicianship: the horn charts, the keyboards, inventive work on drums and percussion. And while some people I knew found her singing annoying, I can’t say I ever agreed. She also started covering jazz standards a few years before other pop singers made it fashionable to do so.

The longest song on that album is “Traces of the Western Slopes,” YouTubed here.

I remember listening to this song, looking at the album cover, and thinking how the music evoked tenderness, darkness, menace, regret, desperation. It’s actually incredible that so much gets told in only eight minutes. Have a listen and tell me what you think.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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