Drew Beskin: “Personal Shopper”
Athens pop-rock golden child Drew Beskin spent the better part of the past decade gracing various bands with his gifts — the District Attorneys, Party Dolls and PURSES. Since going solo in 2017 with the debut Cha-Ching Machine, he’s shown a knack for versatile songwriting across both genre and musical era. This slick l’il earworm arrives by way of his latest album, Problematic for the People, his third solo endeavor, which will be released July 2, three full years since his last work, Nostalgia Porn.
Recorded over the course of two weeks, the record was produced and engineered by Matt Martin and Drew Vanderberg, who collectively have experience experience with other local favorites like Faye Webster, Wanderwild and Deerhunter. This upbeat pop-rock single, very much in the style of the 1960s’ British invasion, is one of three singles released to hype the album, rounded out by “Going Alright for You” and “Double Dipper.”
As some have rightly pointed out, the album title is almost certainly a wry nod to fellow Athenians R.E.M.’s blockbuster 1992 album, Automatic for the People. Beskin’s band features Phillip Brantley (Terminally Phil, Palace Doctor & Modern Skirts) on bass, Josh Parsons (Cowboy Curtys) on guitar, and Jeremy Wheatley (Sailors & Ships and Crooked Fingers ) on drums.
Lunar Vacation: “Shrug”
It’s comforting that Jeff Bezos isn’t the only one dreaming of a relaxing getaway in space. Progenitors of the so-called “pool rock” genre, up-and-coming ATL-born and bred band Lunar Vacation had laid claim to that aspiration in 2016. That’s the year the members founded their merry band while still high-schoolers at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Chamblee. (Vocalist/guitarist Grace Repasky met Maggie Geeslin in eighth-grade guitar class.)
In 2017 they self-released their first EP, Swell, and began to get gigs, even though they were still too young to drink at some venues they played, and their parents had to drive them around town. Lunar Vacation recently signed with Austin-based indie label Keeled Scales, and this release may well make an appearance on their forthcoming album, comfirmed for later this year. The video features charming hand-drawn animation by John Andrews.
Repasky said of the song in a recent interview, “I look back now and realize that this song was a pivotal moment in delving into self-identity and ultimately identifying as a nonbinary person.”
The teens embarked upon their first tour the summer after high school graduation, something they kept up until COVID-19 hit the pause button (check out our 2019 Q&A with the group here). Repasky and Geeslin recently collaborated with Stranger Things actor Finn Wolfhard’s band and plan to play at the Shaky Knees festival in October.
Glady Knight and the Pips: “Midnight Train to Georgia”
Technically, Amtrak only goes from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and then you’d have to switch to the Crescent Line to reach the Atlanta depot in Buckhead. But who in their right mind cares when it comes to the staying power of this near-perfect song? With Gladys Knight’s emotionally resonant vocals and the classic dance moves of the Pips, our Vintage Track of the Week is one of few tunes that’ll give you goose bumps even when played on an endless loop. “The Midnight Train to Georgia” is at once moving, sad and exuberant, like one of the world’s best rom-coms performed in less than five satisfying minutes.
What’s not as well known is that it’s a cover song, extracted and elevated from two far more toned-down recordings by other artists. Songwriter Jim Weatherly, who died earlier this year, had penned a couple of hits for the group already, including “Neither One of Us” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”
Knight — who made her solo singing debut at age 4 with the Mount Moriah Baptist Church Choir near Atlanta University Center and formed this group with siblings and cousins at age 8 — wanted another killer song. The group had just switched from Motown Records to Buddah Records and, in 1973, was poised to release one of its most heralded albums, Imagination, which included this chart-topping Grammy winner.
The song was inspired by a brief phone conversation with Charlie’s Angels’ Farrah Fawcett, who told Weatherly that she was packing for a “midnight plane to Houston” to see family. He thought that sounded like a compelling song, and wrote “Midnight Plane to Houston” in about 45 minutes. The original rendition, by Weatherly, feels like a faint outline of the final piece that Knight and the Pips would eventually sculpt.
The song was recorded by Cissy Houston (Whitney’s mother) before it reached Knight. Houston suggested changing the state name and mode of transportation because “my people are originally from Georgia, and they didn’t take planes to Houston or anywhere else.”
When Knight got the tune, she envisioned an anthem about two people from different worlds struggling to hold onto each other, presented in the soulful style of the Rev. Al Green. So they mixed in the horns and keyboards — and in a brilliant stroke — divided the lyrics between singer and chorus, with the Pips narrating and punctuating each line (“A superstar, but he didn’t get far” and “I know you will!”).
The song was named one of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. It was a stroke of good fortune that Fawcett didn’t refer to her flight as “taking the red-eye.” Where would we be then?