When I started thinking about romantic stay-in music, this exchange from Barry Levinson's fries and gravy classic Diner came to mind.
Modell: When you want to make out, who do you make out to: Sinatra or Mathis?
Shrevie: I'm married. We don't make out.
I choose to believe that there's romance afoot no matter what a couple's status. And should you elect to stay in on Valentine's Day, and you don't have any Mathis or Sinatra in your collection to create the proper mood, there are certainly other contenders. One candidate is Nick Lowe, pub-rock patriarch and few-frills pure popper turned crooner. Lowe's sound was once synonymous with the clattering, and occasional breaking, of pint glasses. These days, as most recently showcased on his Yep Roc release The Convincer, his is the sound of smooth scotch being sipped.
Furthering his crooner rep, Lowe contributed a version of "It's All in the Game" to an album of romance music titled Sweetheart Love Songs, a Hear Music compilation released in time for Valentine's Day. Other offerings on the collection range from the sublime (Ron Sexsmith's Bing Crosby-inspired take on "Moonlight Becomes You") and charmingly silly (a "Tonight You Belong to Me" duet from Josh Ritter and Blake Hazard that's straight out of Steve Martin's The Jerk) to the highly unlikely (Iron & Wine doing the Marshall Tucker Band's "AB's Song"). Hear has released a second volume for this year featuring combinations that work better than they have a right to. Exhibit A: Calexico's affectionate reconstruction of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
An appeal to a handful of local musicians for other mood-setting recommendations yielded some interesting suggestions. While a Sinatra man (Close to You and More is his favorite), Django Haskins of International Orange and the Old Ceremony calls Air's Moon Safari "one of the great make-out records of recent memory." Caroline Mamoulides nominates anything by Cape Verdean morna singer Cesario Evora, adding, "Of course you can't understand a thing she's saying, but who needs to? I think her music is sexy and sweet and immediately puts you on island time." Offers roots and folk rocker Shannon O'Connor, "I don't know if what puts me 'in the mood' is considered romantic by everyone, but I always like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust." And Wicked Mojos leader Roy "Mel" Melton knows exactly what he likes. "I'm as old school as a glass of water. Smokey Robinson is the man, and his best was 'Cruisin.' His voice is so rich and sensual, and the arrangement of the song is lush and sexy." Goin' Out Should you elect to venture out to celebrate this year, there's an assortment of music-related activities. Local 506 is hosting a Valentine's Night show with Kitty Box & The Johnnys, featuring Taz Halloween. If you're willing to put on a few miles, Nash Arts in Nashville, N.C., is sponsoring a show by Chris Knight that they're calling "Love Americana Style." And on Tuesday, the sixth annual Love Hangover show will be held at Kings, with male-female duos serving up songs about love found and/or lost. "Anything goes," explains Mamoulides, who's participated in all the Love Hangover shows and this year will be teaming with Clay Merritt. "In years past, I've covered everything from Bruce to Queen to Lucinda to Bowie to Cheap Trick to Cole Porter." For an evening of romantic jazz, there's the second annual Valentine Jazz Festival at Durham's Carolina Theatre.
If you want to take the floor, two clubs that hold dances the second Saturday of every month, Tangophilia and the Triangle StarDusters, will take advantage of the timing and consider their gatherings on Feb. 12 to be Valentine's Day events. The former is sponsoring a tango workshop in the afternoon and a dinner dance--heavy, of course, on Argentine tango--that evening at Chamas Churrascaria in Brightleaf Square. (See www.tangophilia.com for complete details.) The latter is holding a ballroom dance with everything from the fox trot and rhumba to California two-step and polkas, 8-11 p.m. at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio on Garrett Road in Durham. And on Valentine's Day, A Step to Gold International Ballroom at Raleigh's Pleasant Valley Promenade will host its ballroom dance, a BYOB affair with dinner served at 6:30 followed by waltzes, cha-chas, merengues, et al. Recorded music will be used for all three dances, allowing for maximum variety and also allowing me to potentially slip a copy of "I Wanna Be Sedated," the only song in the world I can dance to, into the stacks.
As far as dinner music is concerned, when I called several restaurants to inquire whether there'd be a violinist on duty on Valentine's Day, you'd have thought I asked, "So will your waitstaff be serving cherries jubilee buck naked?"
Instead, there's pianist Chris Reynolds, who'll be playing jazz at the Washington Duke Inn's Fairview. With a dozen or more restaurants featuring live jazz on Monday night, it's clear that jazz is the musical ticket on Valentine's Day. But unless Reynolds is willing to drag his piano tableside and honor a request for "My Funny Valentine," it's just not the same. No crooners, no piped in Mathis or Sinatra, no Spiders from Mars. Maybe restaurateurs are afraid that their patrons will start making out over their chateaubriand. Would that be so wrong?