Showing posts from March, 2017

A short 1970's Playlist: Part 1

For a long time, many of these songs had become cliche and stale to me. However, recently I started listening with fresh ears again. . .and it's true, these songs are incredible and defining of the 1970s musically and culturally.
“Superstition” Stevie Wonder A compelling drum solo of sorts kicks off this downright groovy tune, in which Stevie Wonder contemplates the fallacies of self fulfilling prophecies and their ability to perpetuate poverty and misery.
“What’s Going On” Marvin Gaye Marvin’s melodic and soft voice is paired with chilled out music to create a unique, depressed yet beautiful 70’s vibe. Here, the emphasis  is on meditation, ecological suffering, and the horrors of war.
“On the Beach” Neil Young Neil Young is hiding out on a dark California beach, looking through the fog, measuring up pain and fame over some minor chords, rolling base, and sensible drums. Very moody.

“Burnin’ For You” Blue Oyster Cult

Essential Truckers # 4: Used to be a Cop (Hood)

Here, Patterson Hood sings, convincingly, a character sketch of an ex-cop who's family has left him, has been shot, was beat by his daddy, and has a tendency to be violent. You can almost picture Hood's character pacing around the house late at night, mulling it all over, looking through the rain in true southern Gothic style. 
The song it lit by a moving, fluid baseline and streaks of dark guitar. There is the occasional major chord triumph during the bridge, but only briefly, as it serves to celebrate past experiences of the character, not the present, nor future prospects. This is when we learn he used to play football, and that the police academy "was the only thing" he was good at. In contrast, the dark verses are filled with foreboding, twisted tales of a life that's disintegrated. Classic tune from the Truckers, indeed. Almost feels like it could've been featured in the movie "Taxi Driver". Listen below:

Wise Words: Rabbi Harold Kusher

I just finished reading a fantastic book by Rabbi Harold Kushner of Natrick, MA, called 9 Essential things I learned about Life. It was so compelling that I'm currently tearing through another book of his that presents a case for Judaism and it's ability to lift human life above its sometimes boring or dreadful circumstances and into something holistic and life affirming. This particular book is called To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking

Reading Kushner's book has made me appreciate Judaism's emphasis on community and real action over belief and personal will. It's long list of rituals and laws elevate normal life to the extraordinary, and have the built in effect of making humans fully aware of their humanity and their capacity to act morally.

Importantly, Kushner takes the Bible to be true but not literally true. For example, he does not believe that the world was created in 6 days, but rather views the creation story as a poetic myth that illustr…

High Water Everywhere: Essential Bob Dylan # 21

Bob Dylan is a Psalmist, a love-lost Minnesotan, a realist, and a craftsman. What is often forgotten is that many of his best songs show that he is indeed a puzzle maker, weaving together narratives and leaving listeners guessing as to the true meaning of the song. I don't accept that some songs may mean nothing, because that is a meaning in and of itself. This all brings us to "Pay in Blood", a puzzle of a tune that offers many riches, and will leave you mulling over its meaning for quite some time.

The song kicks off with a swaggering guitar lick that sounds like it could of been ripped right off a 70's Rolling Stone album. Bob's voice hear is incredibly hoarse, and he grunts and yells about his mistreatment, his penchant for violence, and how he's getting away with it. After the light, Stones-sounding riff that cascades through the beginning of the first part of the verses, a minor chord tempo is thrown in to sway the listener off balance. This seems to b…

Essential Truckers # 3: Three Great Alabama Icons (Hood)

Remember when I said Patterson Hood needs to prove he's the smartest one in the room? Hear his sweeping, spoken word lecture over a steady, chugging guitar, as Hood weaves together personal narrative, civil rights history, popular music legend, and the "duality of the southern thing" all into one.

Hood tells the story of not only the understood south, but the misunderstood south. He understands the deep offense of the racist symbol that the star's n' bars represents, while also acknowledging the goodness, unfortunate poverty, and dignity of those that might fly it on the back of their truck.

The shameful politics and open racism of Alabama is all over this one, too, as Hood ruminates on segregationist Alabama politician George Wallace. He understands that "states rights" is code for white supremacy.

Music history also breaks it's way into Hoods grand lecture, as he acknowledges the complexity of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd and their song "Sweet Hom…

Craig Finn & "We all want the Same Things"

I've long admired Craig Finn, a Minnesotan who's an excellent songwriter, singer, and Catholic nice guy.  Something about him feels approachable, honest, and hardworking. His songs often focus on partying, travel, relationships and dead-end jobs.

How does it all add up? Finn's got a novelists eye for detail and he isn't afraid to show it. He's been out there writing drop dead songs for a while. He kinda looks like an accountant who goes to baseball games with his family on the weekend. Wears a suit jacket over an oxford shirt.  It all makes some type of sense.

Recently, he's released an album called "We all want the Same Things". Two songs from that album caught my attention, and I'll video link below:


"God in Chicago" (with video)

The Righteous Path: Essential Drive By Truckers # 2 (Hood)

While the first track of this series, "Heathens", is a light and bittersweet tune "The Righteous Path"
is something else all together. There are probably five or six "types" of songs that Hood writes, and this is one of them. 
Here, Patterson Hood weaves together the fuzzed out hard rock of Neil Young's Crazy Horse, the working class ethos of Bruce Springsteen, and the heart of the south into a distinct Truckers tune. A full frontal assault is staged with the guitars as Hood goes into overdrive painting a character sketch of a stressed out, middle aged dude with a family and dwindling monetary supplies. He's got a whole lot of debt and a boat sitting in the backyard that "hasn't seen the water in years". 
Towards the end of the song, lead guitarist Mike Cooley lays down some atmosphere as Hood goes from descriptive to sensitive, singing "we're hanging out/ and we're hanging on/we try our best/to keep on moving on". …

Masters of War: The Absurdity of the Military Budget

There's a narrative out there that is pushing some sort of line about our "depleted military". It constitutes an outright lie. 

In fact, we could cut our military budget IN HALF and still be the largest military spender in the entire world. 
Put another way, the United States spends more on it's military than the world' s next seven largest spenders. . . COMBINED. 
I think it is safe to say that this emphasis on war constitutes a moral crisis of epic proportions. 

Circling back to some MLK quotes from 1968: 
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
"Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.”

For further reading, the NYT has good coverage of this phenomenon (…

Ain't no Doctor: Bob & the Medical Profession

Over the years, Bob Dylan has opined quite a bit concerning doctors.
Of course, we all know those moments in the waiting room can be a time of self reflection, people watching, and idle thoughts. Doctors tell us what’s wrong while occasionally tell us what is right. They offer hope and despair.  
Bob has also used the idea of a doctor as a representation of a figure of authority. Often, he finds his girlfriend's cheating with them. They won’t tell him why he’s sick. He doesn’t need to be one to notice details about a person’s character. If he goes to the doctor he might get “his head blown off”. Still, he always wished that he’d been one, apparently.

Also, there are a lot of peer-reviewed medical journal articles that quote Bob quite often ( so that's weird.

Below are all instances in which Bob has mentioned the word “doctor” in his songs. Most of them are pretty funny, actu…

Too Much of Nothing: Essential Drive By Truckers # 1 (Patterson Hood)

"Heathens" is everything Patterson Hood represents as a musician, and serves as the perfect introduction to the Drive By Truckers. If I were putting together a DBT album, this track would undoubtedly be first. Hearing it first is like opening a can of sunshine on a humid day as the clouds roll over the green hills. 
"Heathens" is warm, bittersweet, full of compassion, and rewards repeat listens. Hood recounts a story about him and his ol' neighborhood buddies drinking, getting a car stuck in ditch, and generally raising hell. Hood uses these events as a means to explore relationships, compassion, and life over the years. 
There seems to be some sort of theme throughout the song that suggests Hood has been hanging with some people in low places for quite some time. He's comfortable there, but admits that "these times can take their toll sometimes/ And I know you feel the same way too/ It just gets so hard to keep between the ditches/ When the roads run…

The New/Old South: Drive By Truckers

Intro: The Essential Drive By Truckers How about a band with not one, but three verified songwriting aces’s? Sounds good to me. And no, they're not the Beatles.

I'd like to diversify my music content a bit, and discuss some other artists that are not Bob Dylan.

Who are the Truckers? They hail from the music hotbed of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and are known to generally play alt-country, rock, folk, and blues. Their de facto leader is Patterson Hood, but the band has been strongly influenced by two other songwriters: Jason Isbell and Mike Cooley. Isbell, who is much younger than Hood and Cooley, was separated from the band sometime around 2007. Just like the Beatles, the band seems to follow the rule "if you write the song, you sing it". DBT is deeply rooted in, yet critical of, southern culture. In fact, they invented the idea of “the duality of the southern thing”. The band works hard, aren't afraid to play guitar solos, and do not shy away from the politics of th…