One for Friday: Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “Carmelito”

We probably thought Edie Brickell was going to be one of those artists who’d be around, creating music that was simultaneously breezy and vital for a long, long time. The debut album with backing band New Bohemians (no “the,” please) arrived in August of 1988, weeks before I landed at the college radio station, and the single “What I Am” got ample airplay throughout the fall on its way to becoming an unlikely Top 10 hit on the Billboard charts. For most, that track represents the entirety of the essential Brickell collection. At our station, however, it was actually the group’s sophomore album, 1990’s Ghost of a Dog, that loomed largest.

I’m not sure why the album caught our attention with such authority when it came out that fall. The lead single was actually one of the weakest tracks on the record and the fairly tiresome pervasiveness of their sole hit was already starting to wear on everyone, especially since its folky, loping nature meant it was even embraced by Adult Contemporary radio, the clearest deathblow to musical coolness at the time. And yet Ghost of a Dog was an album that several DJs explored and soon deeper cuts like “Woyaho,” “Times Like This” and “Me By the Sea” were getting enthusiastic airplay across the schedule.

Fessing up to the ubiquitous influence of the male gaze in our collective decision-making process, especially in a media-obsessed clan filled with guys circling around the age of twenty, it probably didn’t hurt at all that Brickell had a well-scrubbed hippie girl loveliness. I can even report that a cohort and I had second row seats for a live performance by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians at a Milwaukee theater, and its inspired countless years of debate over which of the two of us she was flirtatiously gazing at while singing the most heartfelt songs (I have, however, long since given up on the notion that it was me).

That physical attraction was only part of the inspiration behind dropping the album on the turntable, though, and probably the smallest part at that. There with a lithe, sharp, spirited exuberance to the album that spoke to who we were at the time and maybe even who we aspired to be. It’s probably heard best on the song “Carmelito,” which is the song I associate most strongly with the album and our embrace of it. “And they were wild and free/ Happy as can be in America,” Brickell sings on chorus, and it encompassed something special about the youth were swirling within. The song is actually fairly dark lyrically with some bloodshed setting up an interesting pivot by the end of the song, but that didn’t necessarily blunt the joyful impact of the song’s charmingly ragged hootenanny vibe. No matter what future we may or may not have projected onto Brickell’s career, this song, and the album it resides on, was blissfully, beautifully about the here and now for us. Somewhere within its lolling melody was the promise that we didn’t need to grow up, at least not just yet.

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “Carmelito”

(Disclaimer: It looks to me like Ghost of a Dog is out of print as a physical entity that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I could be wrong about that, though. I swear I’ve looked it up at other times in recent years and found it to be readily available. I’m not even going to go double-check now, worried about immediately finding a factual contradiction of the opening sentence of this disclaimer. Regardless, I don’t mean to take bread off the table of Ms. Brickell or any of the new Bohemians, especially since no one in that latter group has the opportunity to dip into a spouse’s Graceland earnings to help out with household spending. What I’m saying is this: should anyone with due authority to request the song’s removal from this corner of the interweb choose to contact me with such a request, I will gladly and promptly comply.)

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