Originally posted June 2, 2008
Summer hasn’t really started yet, if one wishes to be technical about it. We’re still eighteen days away from the summer solstice, when the Johnny-come-lately druids will gather at Stonehenge and pretend that their ancestors did the hard work there.
Sometimes, one can’t help but be annoyed at the unfairness of it all: Come June 20 on England’s Salisbury Plain, the sun will rise over the heelstone, as it has done for something like 3,200 years. Here at our little nest in St. Cloud, we’ll get to watch the sun rise over the truck repair garage up by the highway. But that’s an accident of place: If we were ambitious enough on that early morning later this month, we could position ourselves so to see the sun rise over the Mississippi River, which would be pleasant enough.
Either way, the solstice – and the actual start of summer – is still more than two weeks away. But summer as a state of mind is already here. I don’t think the St. Cloud schools have closed for the summer yet, but weekends and afternoons find more youngsters out on bicycles and in the fields and playgrounds. (A quick look at the school district’s website tells me that classes end this Thursday. The fact that I had to check underlines how different my life is now than when I was a reporter: In those days, school events were so central to the news coverage of those various small towns that I knew offhand when the current school year ended and when the next one would start.)
As I said, however, summer as a state of mind is already here. Each Friday afternoon, the north-bound lanes of U.S. Highway 10 – up the slight hill near the truck repair garage – are clogged with folks driving their SUVs, pick-ups and RVs north to their lake cabins, some hauling their boats behind them. Come Sunday afternoon, the traffic takes over the southbound lanes (the highway technically runs east and west, but the stretch here in St. Cloud runs at an angle aligned more closely to north-south), as the cabin folks wend their ways back to the Twin Cities.
The weekend procession to the lakes goes into full bloom for the Memorial Day weekend (a little more than a week ago, now), but it begins in late April and early May, as the cabin-folk head north for their first visits of the season, spending weekends cleaning cabins inside and out and – for many – doing the hard work of putting the docks into the lakes. Now, I’ve never owned a lake place, nor has my family, but I’ve heard enough friends and relatives talk about the hard work of opening cabins in spring and closing them in fall. I sometimes wonder if the relaxation time one does manage to get is worth the three to four hours spent in traffic on both Friday and Sunday, combined with the effort to maintain what is in effect a second home.
Obviously, for those who migrate through St. Cloud every weekend between now and the end of August, it is. It’s not my lack of a lake cabin – sour summer grapes, as it might be – that makes me question the worth of a lake place. I have no doubt that I would enjoy weekends at a lake. A northern Minnesota lake in early morning can be spectacular, especially when the call of the loon comes out of the silver curtain of mist that’s just beginning to dissipate in the sunlight. But to me, it’s matter of the time invested. The hours spent each week driving to and from and maintaining the place at the lake are, to me, better spent in reading another book, digging into the history of an obscure 45 or maybe sitting on the balcony or on the patio of a nearby restaurant, sipping a cold beer. Maybe if I had the means, I’d feel differently. But I don’t think so.
Kim Carnes – Sailin’ (1976)
I don’t know if Kim Carnes’ third album – Sailin’ – was recorded or released in the summertime; All-Music Guide doesn’t says. But the album, recorded at Muscle Shoals with the renowned rhythm section, has a summertime feel to it, in some ways.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say that the album has the feel of summers remembered. Many of the songs on the album are nostalgic, starting from the first track, “The Best of You,” which opens with the unsettling line:
“Memories are the only thing that time can’t take away.”
From there, the song is more upbeat, noting “the best of you has got the best of me.” But it’s an opening that seems to put the listener on notice that Carnes is going to be dealing with memories in a number of ways: the joy of their creation and their eventual cost. With eight of the ten songs coming from Carnes’ pen – two on her own, five in partnership with Dave Ellingson and one with Eddie Reeves – one can look at Sailin’ as reflection of Carnes’ state of mind although one doesn’t normally drop the raspy-voiced performer into the singer-songwriter slot.
Carnes covers two songs: Van Morrison’s “Warm Love,” which feels perfunctory in its vocal (not its instrumental backing, which includes the Muscle Shoals Horns), and “It’s Not The Spotlight” by Barry Goldberg and Gerry Goffin. The latter song, despite an awkward chorus, is maybe the track that best merges Carnes’ vocal abilities with the talents of the Muscle Shoals musicians. In the album’s vinyl configuration, “It’s Not The Spotlight” starts Side Two, and there’s some groove there, almost a gospelly feel to the chorus, and it got my toes tapping for the first time as I listened to the album this morning. Then, 3:17 into the song, co-producer and keyboard player Barry Beckett finally makes his presence known with a simple but elegant piano run and stays in earshot for the rest of the song.
That starts a run of good tracks on Side Two. (The first side wasn’t bad, but nothing much jumped out at me.) “Last Thing You Ever Wanted To Do” takes off on the chorus with a keening guitar part behind the vocal, one of the few times on the record that a song changes intensity. “Let Your Love Come Easy” has a light rock sense, an almost Firefallish feel with the flute darting in and out, but it also has a nice break from the percussion and is a more danceable tune than one generally finds on a singer-songwriter album, even one recorded in Muscle Shoals.
Then comes “Tubin’,” the last of four very good tracks on Side Two. Carnes’ piano work (she also plays on “He’ll Come Home”), combined with nice touches of harmonica (Blackie Schnacker) and tambourine give this tale of lazin’ down the river a sweet feeling. The horn work of Bob Wilber tops the song off nicely.
When A&M released Sailin’ in 1976, it went nowhere. I think I found out about it in the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which noted, “In another place and time, Kim Carnes might have been recognized as a great singer. No question about the voice: it’s worn, aged, soulful, defiant, utterly lacking smooth edges – and enormously compelling instrument to anyone enamored of blue-eyed soul. But the lady can’t catch a break. Her story is one of great records that nobody hears.”
One of those, said Album Guide writer David McGee, was Sailin’. He called the record “a classic” and gave it four stars out of five. Is the record that good? Maybe. Even though I’ve had a copy since I found the vinyl in 1998, I’ve listened to it only rarely, noting the strengths and flaws I’ve mentioned here. If I spent more time with it, I might appreciate it more. Still, as good as Sailin’ might be, it suffers in my book because Carnes’ raspy voice tends to wear on me after a bit. (I got exceedingly weary of her voice in 1981 when her single “Bette Davis Eyes” held on to the No. 1 spot for nine weeks.) Still, amid the dross and dreck, even a good album is worth celebrating.
Jerry Wexler co-produced the record with Beckett. Musicians were: David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums and percussion, Beckett on keyboards; Pete Carr on lead guitar and Dobro, Jimmy Johnson on rhythm guitar, Carr and Johnson on acoustic guitars, Tom Roady on percussion, Dave Grisman on mandolin, Schnacker on harmonica, Wilber on soprano sax, the Muscle Shoals Horns, and Carnes, Julia Tillman, Maxine Willard, Ellingson and Grisman on background vocals.
(I found this rip at a forum – thanks, barriere – and I’m pretty sure it came from vinyl, as I’ve seen no record of Sailin’ being released on CD. I’ve done a bit of tinkering with it, and I’m sharing it here because it’s in better shape than my vinyl.)
The Best of You (Has Got The Best Of Me)
All He Did Was Tell Me Lies (To Try To Woo Me)
He’ll Come Home
It’s Not The Spotlight
Last Thing You Ever Wanted To Do
Let Your Love Come Easy
Loves Comes From Unexpected Place
Kim Carnes – Sailin’