Highway's Song

Songs from the Mine: Louise Goffin

Louise Goffin. Photo by Ruel Lee.

Louise Goffin. Photo by Ruel Lee.

When was the last time you heard an album that changed your life in some significant way? Perhaps it was that summer romance when the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was constantly on the box, coloring your moods and articulating your feelings. Or maybe it was that beach party where the DJ played “Hey Ya!” from Outkast’s The Love Below five times in a row because it sounded so great – and now it brings back such wondrous memories when you hear it again. The evocation of music is a glorious phenom. In the bygone era where music held pride of place in our cultural pantheon as a sanctified art form, it was appreciated on a mass scale and not relegated to the realm of cultural wallpaper and background noise, or something to disturb the unbearable stillness of your personal space. We’ve become so used to noise pollution in our contemporary culture that most folks expect and/or require any sort of electronic pablum to reassure themselves and feel comforted within this chaotic slice of eternity. These modern day contrivances are the antithesis of what music is intended to be. At its glorious core, music is a decoration to the expanse of space and time and in the hands of a master it transmutes your consciousness to a dimension that it has never before perceived. That is what timeless art does. It speaks to the soul, reaches into the heart and explores the endless paradoxes of what it means to be alive, to be human within the full spectrum of contradictory emotions. As peculiar animals uniquely aware of how transient our existence is, most of us would rather bury our heads in the sand and blithely ignore that fact. But for the brave and the willing and the true adventurers amongst us, we revel and are revealed by looking into that mirror that has the power to sustain us in its fount of inspirational truth and beauty. By developing the ability to look deep within oneself, a piece of another person’s soul reflects our universal existence together.

Great art often demands that you meet it more than halfway if you are to truly appreciate the gifts that are on offer. Sometimes it is merely arriving at the proper state of mind to appreciate Cézanne or the writings of Emmett Grogan. At other times their genius seems so obvious you wonder why the entire world isn’t celebrating their exemplary output. And years from now, when I conjure up memories from the summer of 2014 I will smile sweetly and remember the profundities evoked by Songs from the Mine, the latest sonic adventure from composer/musician/producer Louise Goffin. As the title intimates, it took a lot of living and exacting toil to extract these nuggets from the darkest recesses of the psyche and bring them into the light, where all are invited to share in their beauty, strength, and encouraging wisdom. But be forewarned, it may take more than a superficial glance or a cursory listen to appreciate what’s happening here.

If your first response to hearing Louise Goffin’s name is bewilderment, or slipping into a Pavlovian daydream and wondering if she sounds anything like her parents – I suppose that’s a reasonable response. As the eldest daughter of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, such is the cursed blessing of living in the incomparable shadow of arguably the greatest songwriting duo of the twentieth century. And should you require validation of that claim just ask Messieurs Lennon and McCartney… or numerous other masters within the field.

But really, what sort of masochist would wish upon themselves the comparisons of their notoriously famous parents? Just ask Sean or Julian Lennon, Robert Downey, Jr., Jakob Dylan, Chynna Phillips, or Carnie and Wendy Wilson what that particular exercise is like. If nepotism can only take you so far then that’s certainly been one of the perceptual obstacles that Goffin has been up against since the release of her debut LP, Kid Blue, for Elektra records in 1979.

Okay, masochist is the wrong adjective – perhaps “fated determinist” is a better description, because it would seem inevitable that if you had that caliber of DNA coursing through your veins, karmically influencing the course of your thoughts and dreams, it would be criminal to have that sort of molecular and cultural advantage and deny the world of all that unexplored potential. But is it possible for the prodigy of compositional legends to be received and appreciated with a Zen-like beginner’s mind by the general public? Most likely not, because, in this celebrity-drenched culture that spills over our awareness like a shroud of mystification, how do you experience any art form these days without preconception? Everyone brings their own personally monogrammed baggage to the table of the eternal now. And man, it must be wearisome to be jaded and feel like you’ve seen and heard it all.

If you’ve been following Louise Goffin’s career since its inception, you would have noticed that with each successive record she’s made there are discernible arcs and dips to the moods, techniques, and performances that she has put forth before the lions of public opinion. After two LPs (Kid Blue and her eponymous follow up Louise Goffin) of rather conventional fare, other titles followed including 1989’s This Is the Place and 2002’s extremely compelling Sometimes a Circle. At first glance, Sometimes a Circle has the appearance of an artist who has truly arrived and can’t believe that she’s living the dream (i.e., husband, kids, home, career). But by 2008’s Bad Little Animals, it became apparent that there was a downside to the fantasy come true – with the illusion of having it all collapsing in the face of reality. As a clue to how much things had changed, listen to the track “Hurt People” and that pretty much says it all.

But now, six years on, all of the hard-earned wisdom of learning how to be self-reliant (both on stage and off), and figuring out how to pierce the veil in the land of dashed hopes and dreams, comes a masterpiece of reinvention. This latest record is a conversation with your best friend – it serves as a reminder that just because your dreams came tumbling down, it’s still okay to keep on dreaming. And even though your heart’s been broken doesn’t mean that after taking a sabbatical to lick your wounds and regain your equilibrium, you can’t emerge from the experience stronger and wiser.

Some records feel like they’re chasing trends, while others are completely oblivious to the whims of fashion. If you’re seeking something snide, aloof and stylistically detached in the name of appearing “cool,” then look elsewhere kids, ’cause this isn’t it. Songs from the Mine feels like a long, lost letter of reassurance from someone that you haven’t spoken to in years. And no matter how long it’s been, the conversation picks up naturally from the last time you crossed paths – feeling as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans.

Songs from the Mine has a sweetness that is rare these days. With one song building upon the next, a narrative forms throughout without the pretense of being a concept album. No two songs sound alike, either in structure, production, or the emotions that they exude, and yet there is a continuity that carries you from the first song to the last. The albums starts off with an epic pep talk (“Everybody but You”) that never fails to make my heart sing, especially with the triumphant chord change that occurs when the verse goes to the chorus. Somehow I can’t help but wonder if the singer is speaking to herself.

There are cautionary tales of what life can be like out in the weird, wild world, with some particularly sage advice in “Some of Them Will Fool You,” a song about perception and how the stories we tell ourselves are oftentimes self-defeating. So be careful about what you think: “When they sing you don’t have to sing along… it’s only true if you believe them. So don’t believe them.”

“Follow My Heart” is a sly demonstration of what happens when you don’t live in an intellectual cocoon of self-protection. There is earnest vulnerability and a yearning in the perpetual search for someone or something to believe in and trust – that somehow these ideals and myths will magically manifest and the ills of the world will be transformed, trumping all the odds. Woven within this mosaic of faith and hope is an acceptance of love as the guiding factor – and that’s the mortar that holds Songs from the Mine together. Whatever life has wrought, there is always a new day ahead and another shot at redemption from the self-imposed shackles of the past.

Although she’s written plenty of songs by herself in the past, one of the attributes that Goffin shares with her parents is a proclivity toward writing with other songwriters. All 11 tunes on Songs from the Mine greatly benefit from the input of other writers. A trio of collaborations went down at the Steel Bridge Song Festival in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. “Main Street Parade,” written with Lynda Kay Parker and Dustin Welch, is a breezy summation of losing your lover amidst the hustle and bustle. “We Belong Together,” written with James Hall and Chris Aaron, offers up some atypical Stones-like swagger, proving that, even if the protagonist has been burned in the past, the need for connection, affection, love, and the arms of protection are worth pleading, fighting, and working toward. One of the crown jewels of the record is “Deep Dark Night of the Soul.” Composed with Corinne Lee (who contributes some marvelously absurd French to the proceedings) and Craig Greenberg, “Deep Dark Night of the Soul” is a whimsical treaty with the past, demonstrating how much the singer has changed: “I’m a bad-ass bitch with my shit together, make my bridges out of steel.” These are but three of the reasons why songwriters throughout the land are seduced by the cosmic situations that create such catalyzing art in the hallowed confines of the Holiday Music Motel.

2013 found Goffin exploring a duo with songwriter/musician and sometime actor Billy Harvey, with the two of them dubbing the enterprise A Fine Surprise. There are two soulful collaborations with Harvey on Songs from the Mine. Inspired by a book on Gandhi and non-violence, the meditation within “Sword in Your Heart” is deep, knowing that peace shall never come as long as any feelings of malice persist. “If only you would listen to all it has to say. When you start to feel that everything you do is in vain. The sword in your heart is pointing the way.”

“Here Where You Are Loved” is simply beautiful (with lovely harmonies by Harvey) that serves as the core of reassurance to the entire album. “Get with the World” has a killer lyrical hook (“get on back to who you are and get with the world, get with the world, before the world gets to you”) and “Watching the Sky Turn Blue” is the catchiest song I’ve heard all year and it ought to be burning up the request lines at your local Top 40 station. The album ends on the philosophically upbeat “Good Life,” making me want to return to the top and experience this reaffirmation all over again.

After producing and writing songs for Carole King’s A Holiday Carole in 2011 (with the record receiving a Grammy nomination), comes the high point of Goffin’s professional career so far. And it should be noted that the segues on Songs from the Mine are positively sublime and play a significant part of why this set adds up to such a singular experience. Like the most classic of expressions on that extended canvas of the long-playing album, Songs from the Mine is a glorious slide through a kaleidoscopic range of emotions. Caressing, provoking, and expanding your awareness, it ultimately soothes the savage impulses of self-destruction, caring enough to talk you off the ledge and suggesting how to love yourself in a brand new way. If summer means new love after a long and lonely winter, here’s to the happily ever after evoked by the muse of Louise Goffin.

Louise Goffin will be performing songs from her album Songs from the Mine at Dizzy’s on Thursday, September 18, 7:30pm. Jon Kanis opens. For more information go to www.dizzysjazz.com

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