Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Syd Straw

Syd Straw is not what one would call prolific; she has released only two (very good) albums in her career, 1989's Surprise and 1996's War and Peace. She also appeared with Marc Ribot on the Shimmy Disc Rutles tribute album, Rutles Highway Revisited, performing "I Must Be In Love." I won't go on and on about how the Rutles are actually better than the Beatles, but I will say that many of their songs easily transcend their comedic and derivative origins. That is certainly the case with "I Must Be in Love," which in its elegant simplicity captures the feelings associated with the first flush of new love as well as any other pop song I can think of (and that is saying a lot). Straw and Ribot smartly pare the song down to its essential elements, further emphasizing its simple beauty.

Syd Straw first came to my attention as a vocalist with The Golden Palominos, but she has never been a stranger to the field of entertainment. Her father Jack Straw (not the controversial British politician) was a film and TV actor most remembered for his role as "Prez" in The Pajama Game with Doris Day. And it is a little known fact that Syd provided backing vocals for some of Pat Bentar's biggest hits.

Finding an audience for Straw's music was always a tall order; quirkier than certain plain-vanilla popular female singer-songwriters, but not as self-consciously weird as Tori Amos or Kristen Hersh, Straw’s music has always been hard to pigeonhole. But her talent cannot be denied, and I think that if she had been more prolific it might have helped her find a larger audience. But then she may be happy with the audience she has.

I apologize for the poor sound quality, Shimmy Disc was never known for audiophile-quality LP pressings, and this album also suffered from obvious groove cramming. But a used CD of this could set you back around $50-$75, so don't complain. (Fortunately, Galaxie 500's epochal take on "Cheese and Onions" is available on their odds and sods CD, Uncollected.)

I Must Be In Love [right click to download]


dan said...

Everyone knows "Cheese and Onions" was the Rutles's greatest song.

Pete Bilderback said...

I would tend to agree with that. After all, who among us in the back of our mind hasn't always thought cheese and onions? That kind of ability to tap into the Jungian collective unconscious is the true mark of genius.

Anonymous said...

I've long been a fan of Syd Straw. I saw her in a tiny little bar with half the patrons talking away but the show still rocked and she carried it off with style.

MC said...

I got turned on to Syd Straw via The Golden Palaminos as well. You forgot to mention her great duet with Dave Alvin on the George Jones classic "What Am I worth" on his King of California album.