The Serpico Mixes: The Duets Disc

In a joint collaboration with my weekday roommate and Bronx ally Skip Serpico, I’ll be discussing a mix CD a week. He makes them, I listen to them and provide my in the moment commentary. You, hopefully, read said commentary and maybe open up your musical horizons. You can come here every week for the Serpico Mixes. And you should also visit Skip’s site, Fission Spaghetti, for his musings on food and Saturday Night Live (and more!)

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It's two, two, two mints in one! (Also, shouldn't that have been two, two? Making it three sort of ruins the double motif, right? I'm sure Two-Face would concur with me on this.)

It's two, two, two mints in one!

(Also, shouldn't that have been two, two? Making it three sort of ruins the double motif, right? I'm sure Two-Face would concur with me on this.)

Mix #14

Theme: Duets

I bet you forgot about this movie. Well, your welcome for reminding you. (picture from techcrunch.com)

I bet you forgot about this movie. Well, your welcome for reminding you. (picture from techcrunch.com)

Row Row Row Your Boat by Robin Weigert and Dayton Callie- When my daughter, Princess Thunderella, was mid to late infancy, not yet toddler, one of the few things that worked to calm her down for me was singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to her. As just one man, I couldn’t sing it in a round so I used to modify it to give what I imagined to be a round-like experience for her—Sing it start to finish twice in row, then break it in half (sing the first two lines, then repeat, the second two lines, then repeat), then in fourth (one line, repeat, next line, repeat, etc), then back to half, then back to full. My voice is no great shakes (some might even call it bad, but I’m sure they are just jealous) but it did seem to work.

These guys do a better job here. But just barely.

Without Us by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams- I’m not sure how I forgot this was a duet. I can remember Mathis’s part pretty clearly, but my mind blocked out Williams. I humbly apologize for that Ms. Williams.

In fairness to Ms. Williams though, I had zero idea until now that the male part was sung by Johnny Mathis, so…amends?

This is so tied to Family Ties for me, a show I think I enjoyed (I had a super early bedtime as a kid and as East Coaster that meant, essentially, no primetime TV for me while this show was on. Also I was one when it debuted. So I’ve only seen it out of order and at random times in syndication) that I cannot separate my feelings for it from the show. I like the song, but I’m pretty sure if it wasn’t the Keaton family’s score, I wouldn’t.

Additional “fun” Family Ties fact: it’s final episode ran on the same day I turned 8. I have no recollection of what I did that day. I think that might have been the year I got a baseball glove, maybe?

Back to Black by Beyonce and Andre 3000- The strength of a duet is the sense that these two individuals are playing off another, involved in a flirtation, fight, or reunion, not in there just being two people on the same track. However, here, the Andre and Beyonce parts felt too separate here, as though they weren’t interacting with each other at all. There’s no connective tissue and thus I care not at all for their personal struggles.

If This World Were Mine by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell- I should like this. I recognize that. But I do not. It’s musically not my cup of tea and the lyrics do nothing to change my mind.

U Should Know Better by Robyn and Snoop Dogg- You have to respect someone who declares, “The Vatican knows better than to fuck with me.” I’d wear that on a t-shirt to work but I’m not sure how it would be received at my kind of small Jesuit university so…probably not.

Beyond the boldness, the song is a little flat for me. The verse vocals, especially when Snoop (still Dogg at the time) Lion is on the mic, are good, but the chorus is annoyingly soft both vocally and musically, especially in light of the rest of the content.

Nothing Better by The Postal Service (Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis)- I already knew I was a fan of this song, but I try to “re-listen” to each offering when they come up on the disc. So, for the first time, I really noticed how the song in the first 25 seconds or so slowly adds all its layers. First is the guitar, then comes in the steady metronome like beat, followed by the cymbal, and culminating in the synth and male vocals joining in at nearly the same time. It is nice bit of construction.

The real star, though is the Lewis rejoinder in the second verse that pierces Gibbard’s first verse delusions. Especially effective is the “charts and graphs” smackdown. That’s some harshness right there.

I’ve Seen it All by Bjork and Thom Yorke- Bjork seems like a lot of fun, right? I just get that, like, do anything spur of the moment for the heck of it vibe from her, you know?

And if you think that comment there was vacuous, you should listen to some of the lines of this song. Take, for instance, this exchange:

B: “What about China? Have you seen the Great Wall?”

T: “All walls are great, if the roof doesn't fall!”

Thanks for the freshman philosophy response guys. Powerful, powerful stuff.

Sorry…that’s a bit unnecessarily rude, I get that. I just prefer my pretentious attempts at zen-like statements a bit more dressed up, you know?

Volcano by Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan- I’m not sure what it says about me that I like romance narratives that have a “Gift of the Magi” feeling to them; that idea of both parties being convinced of the same idea about themselves in the relationship and thus act in such a way to negate one another. In “Gift” it was that both party felt they needed to get the other the “ultimate gift” to prove their love and thus ended up rendering each other’s gifts useless.

Here, the axis the issue pivots on is both parties believing that the other does not love the “real” them and/or that they will fail to live up to whatever reason the other party loves them. Thus, they seem headed for destruction because neither will articulate the running monologue in their head’s that is, essentially, “You’re so great and I’m not worthy of it.”

Dear John by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and Norah Jones- This song suffers from disc placement predominantly, I think. By now, most of the songs we’ve encountered have been slow and minor key. I’m a slow, minor key guy, but I like a little shakeup now and again and this song just is not getting it done.

It also suffers from having Norah Jones on it.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Sorry…after praising her several times, I just had to reassert my not a fan of Jones bonafides.

As Long As We’ve Got Each Other by B.J. Thomas and Jennifer Warnes - All hail the Growing Pains theme and all the lyrics from it I entirely forgot.

Carpetbaggers by Jenny Lewis and Elvis Costello- This reminds me of the era of country that was the rage in the early to mid-90’s when my mom got really into that musical genre. But I mean that in a good way. If that makes even the remotest of sense.

There’s a potent sort of nostalgia to it that probably makes me extend a larger courtesy to it than I should. But I yam who I yam.

Musically, it is rather simple, the lyrics are no great shakes, and Lewis makes her voice pretty but a little thin. It still connects with something in me though, undeniably so. Particularly effective is Costello’s growl which is far and away my favorite part of the whole composition. I wish he had more of a verse to himself though.

Blank Girl by Dum Dum Girls and Brandon Welchez- Here we have that effect that makes it sound like the singers are singing AT (not into) the mic from several feet away. The music is not overwhelming or distorting them—a la early R.E.M.—and yet they seem distant, lost in it.

It’s too bad because if the the vocal could be a little more upfront, if the mix was a little bit different, I could see myself being a really big fan of this one.

Nothing Even Matters by Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo- As close to a slow jam as you can legally be without being a slow jam. A technically strong but utterly unmoving offering.

Your Precious Love by Erykah Badu and D’Angelo- For a little while, I was worried Skip had put the same track on the disc twice. He did not, but that should give you an idea of how this song feels for the first :40 or so. Overall, it is a pretty clichéd work but it does at least pick up a bit in the choruses. I was largely done with it at the halfway point. It had already showed me all its tricks and I found them wanting.

Roslyn by Bon Iver and St. Vincent – I’m going back and forth on this one. It is not as strong as I would like, the duet lacks heat and/or power. On the other hand, it does have an inviting, gauzy feel to it, aided by both the sparse music and the rhythm of airy-ness of the folks. I think it is a push. Some days, it’ll probably hit the spot well; others, I’m not going to finish it.

Creepin’ In by Norah Jones and Dolly Parton- This is a duet? I’m not hearing any collaborative singing going on here. Back-up singing is not the same as having a duet. I know Dolly steps in to dominant on one, maybe two lines at the end there, but I rule that as not enough to count. As it is spoken, so it is.

I Remember You by Rilo Kiley and Benji Hughes - Light, fast, and genuine. A nice antidote to the lot of the heavier, more ponderous duets on this disc. Could probably be thinner by one revisiting of the chorus though.

Bigger Than Love by Ben Gibbard and Aimee Mann- To begin with, we open here with a scuffle that seems to be happening some three or so blocks from my Manhattan office (you heard me, I have a office, deal with this knowledge) so already it has my interest. I can be a cheap date. You sing a song about Mill Pond Falls— world’s smallest natural waterfall, located in Newington, CT—I’d pretty much have to call it the song of the century.

Anyhoo, after that, it was an appropriately overblown affair—appropriate given Gibbard’s presence—and I love that style from these artists so I recommend it fully.

Then Came You by Steve Nelson and Gail Lopata Lennon- My least favorite of the TV theme songs. Also, who knew so many 80’s shows employed the duet theme song approach?

Willow Weep for Me by The Kills (Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart)- A sleepy song. It shows some life at 1:47ish but it proves to be more key change than crescendo. It is not a bad sleepy song though. Again, on a different disc, I could see really liking this one.

Little Things by Tony Bennett and Lexine- I do not like Tony Bennett. I do not believe this little girl can sing. I think the entire thesis of this song is fairly idiotic. It’s connection to Sesame Street does little to convince me I am wrong. The end.

Nothing Compares 2 U by Prince and Rosie Gaines- Another Princess Thunderella soother was this song, the Sinead O’Connor version. I am pretty sure my pipes don’t rival O’Connor’s but it did seem to get the job done.

I am a longtime fan of this one, including Prince’s rendition although I, like so many, was certainly familiar with O’Connor’s first even though His Royal Badness actually wrote it and sang it first himself.

I think this is this the first time I’ve encountered the duet version. It may be my least favorite of the three—there’s something about the power of the lyrics that is diminished when the singer is not alone and vulnerable while singing them. That said, it is still great.

The star of the disc? Yeah, I think that is fair to say. With the Purple One being involved though, that can hardly be a surprise, can it?