Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Walk Across The Rooftops

I can hardly contain my disappointment in learning today that The Blue Nile have canceled their February 13 show at The Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. This Scottish band, which I (perhaps correctly) thought I would never in a million years have the opportunity to see, has put out some of the most beautifully impressionistic songs in the history of pop music -- albeit at a clip of about one record every seven years or so.

I know that Roxy Music's Avalon was once voted the sexiest record of all time, but either of this band's first two records, A Walk Across The Rooftops or Hats, could have easily taken that title. Both records are impossibly lush and sparse at the same time. Lead singer Paul Buchanan has always been able to turn a lyric that is at once narratively simplistic and deeply emotionally evocative, set against a slow euro-esque electronic beat and dense orchestration. The Variety Playhouse show, which would've been the first stop on their tour of the U.S., would've made a great pre-Valentine's night out. I still don't know the official reason, but I suspect I may have been the only person in town to buy tickets. Dang.

While I may have been one of the few of the people in town excited about that show, there are other Blue Nile fans out there. Two notable ones are Nashville songwriter/musicians Matthew Ryan and Neil Hubbard, whose collaboration in the side project Strays Don't Sleep, was born of a common love of The Blue Nile. I have to say that when I read that somewhere, I immediately got in line to pick up the Strays' self-titled debut. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed in this record, which is another completely unheralded gem of 2006. I admit that I don't know enough about these guys in their individual incarnations (I'm planning on changing that), but I do know that, as the Strays, they have seemingly effortlessly produced a quiet, American version of that 4 a.m. sound that The Blue Nile are so great at. Do yourself a favor and check out the Strays, best served at a low volume, in the small hours, when you're alone or with someone you wanna be with.

In the meantime, listen to "A Walk Across The Rooftops" (live in Manchester, September 13, 1991) by The Blue Nile and "Love Don't Owe You Anything" by Strays Don't Sleep.

And from YouTube, here's the Strays' "For Blue Skies":