Showing posts from July, 2017

Singer/ Songwriter Playlist Part 1

1. Everlong (acoustic): Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl is as likable as he is talented. The former Nirvana drummer throws his acoustic into "drop D" tuning here and delivers a perfect, melodic and moving tune that has become an alternative rock touchstone, moving everyone from David Letterman to Miley Cyrus.

2. A Little at a Time: Magnolia Electric Co
The sparse midwest, freight trains, dim lit bars, and regret fill up Magnolia Electric Co's songs. Lead singer, the late Jason Molina, was originally a bass player and thus had an interesting and incredibly unique style in playing the guitar. Random notes seem to fit together like a spray painted boxcar rolling through an Indiana night, as Molina's trademark wind-wandering voice drives asks plenty of questions.

3. They Thought I was Asleep: Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly is a clever, emotive, and efficient songwriter. His voice fits every chord he plays with his steady hands. Here, the Australian masters a few turns of phrase as he explo…

Quick Hits: A few short Book Reviews

Some quick hits on some books I've read this summer. . .

Cache Lake Country: Life in the North Woods by John J. Rowlands
While I quite enjoy hiking, camping, and generally being in places of natural beauty as much as the next person, I am not and will not embark on the type of outdoor experience documented in Cache Lake Country.

John Rowlands details his life in the deep north woods of Maine with only a sketch artist and an "Indian Chief" as his companions. Rowlands works for a timber company, thinks no man is meant to live alone, and has a deep appreciation for Native American culture despite the outdated language he uses throughout this 1957 book. He particularly admires "the Chief", who he says has taught him everything about living the great north.

There's no high drama here, just a practical and enjoyable guide to living in the wild. Here, you'll find recipes for raspberry drinks, fishing tips, a guide on how to sleep outside in the middle of winter…

John Moreland: Another Great One from Oklahoma

I've recently been diving into the work of Oklahoma singer/songwriter John Moreland. He's right up there with Jason Isbell as a modern day ace songwriter. I'll detail an "essential list" in a later post, but for now, check him out:

5 Songs for Summer Scenes

Maybe you'll encounter some of these situations, maybe you won't. Whatever, it won't be tonight!

It's hazy, hot, and humid. It's nighttime, you're dehydrated, and a thunderstorm is on the way. Oh, and you're in New York City. The pavement is wet: "Clap Hands", by Tom Waits. 

You're driving in suburban Atlanta and the AC is cranked to the max. There's heavy traffic, danger on the roads, but hope of fun and travel ahead: "Mighty 'O'", by Outkast. 

Continuing on the from the last scene. . . you're still traveling in Georgia, and the summer heat is searing  right into your head. A bit confused, you head into the parking lot of a motel where you'll spend the night & also where a questionable party is going on by the pool. I should note that this song documents the laments of a lifestyle subdued and defeated by the devil's poison: "Swimming Pools" by Kendrick Lamar

You question middle class, suburban v…

Sea Change & The Dog Days of Summer

Summer ain't my favorite season.

Certainly, I don't ignore it's many blessings: no school, eating outside, hiking, the beach, baseball, and fishing. Still, there's always a sense of tiredness that I feel once the summer wears on to late July. Perhaps some of this "summer weariness" is accounted for by virtue of my working outside during the hot months. Something about manual labor can zap you of the energy and sense of bustle and productivity that is ever so present in the fall and winter in the northeast.

After experiencing a particularly hot week here in Connecticut, I have again been reminded that Beck's landmark 2003 album Sea Change is just right for a season such as this. It fits neatly into the dull pull of the summer.

Perhaps I am drawn to this album during the summer months because I remember listening to it in the midst of my younger days. Sea Change was my companion, driving down those summer nights with the headlights pointed towards Hammonas…

The Definitive Era's of Bob Dylan (Part 1)

If you were like me, when you first listened to Columbia Records 2000 compilation The Essential Bob Dylan it was hard to believe all the songs were from the same man. The singer who howled his best Woody Guthrie impression on his early classics sounded barely related to the country crooner on "Lay Lady Lay". Neither of them, however, seemed to be connected to the growling preacher on "Everything is Broken" and "Things Have Changed". This apparent disconnection that my teenage ears heard on what amounts to Bob's greatest hits disc was my first hint that when you listen to Bob Dylan, you truly get a whole life. I'd bet that even older fans, who are lucky enough to have followed Bob step by step, were still taken by surprise to hear his crooning on 1969's Nashville Skyline, his spiritual declarations ten years later on Slow Train Coming, and his new "old" voice on 1989's Oh Mercy. Interesting that all of those albums are exactly 10…

Turn My Headphones Up: 5 Podcasts Worth Your Time

I've spent the summer working at various Connecticut State Parks, and have often found myself alone with a mower or string trimmer, staring down the barrel of an open field of grass or a parking lot overgrown with weeds. While there is work to do, these moments of relatively mindless manual labor have called for one thing: podcasts. Underneath a green hat, in ear headphones, over ear hearing protection, and safety glasses my mind has been actively buzzing with a few great stories, conversations, and talks via the following podcasts:

1. Pod Dylan:

Ever wanted to hear a forty minute conversation on an obscure Bob Dylan song such as "Covenant Woman"? If yes, than Pod Dylan is for you. Host Rob Kelly interviews Dylan fans of everyday ilk, combing over their appreciation of Bob's songs, one by one. Kelly is a gracious and interesting interviewer: he's a fan, and offers some insights into Bob that I've never heard before. When listening, you'll feel like your …

If you listen to any Sinatra song, Listen to this One:

Bob Dylan's recent release(s) have renewed my interest in exploring the music of Frank Sinatra. Recently, I turned back the dusty pages of the old newspaper to Sinatra's 1955 album, The Wee Small Hours. What a killer it is.

The title track is a jaw dropping heartache. Sinatra carries this tune expertly, complete with a detectable sense resignation in his voice.

Here, Sinatra takes us down the dark streets of our past as we see the city lights glowing in his eyes. If anything, this song explains the album cover, which features Frank wearing a dark suit jacket and smokey grey hat, blue and faded amidst the city streetlights.
This song is a killer of a heartbreak because it could easily split you in two, yet the comfort of the crooner here offers some repose. Repose, rest, heartbreak, and memories over a cup of coffee overlooking the brick apartment buildings that seem to stretch on forever in the city. It's all there in Frank Sinatra's "Wee Small Hours". 

Warm Vibes from Cold Specks' "Wild Card"

Cold Specks-a musical moniker for Canadian songwriter Lassan Hussein-just released my favorite new song of 2017, "Wild Card".

Something about this song connects deeply, soul to soul. After all, all eyes are on "you", not her, here. This song won't  hit you upside the head and turn you around. Instead, it seeps into your consciousness slowly and surely, like a trusted friend.

Here, you'll hear humming keys, faint handclaps, and a singer with an uncanny sense of melody. For a July night, it couldn't get any better:

If you'd like to check out Ms. Hussein's KEXP session, click here.

Complete Guide to the 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.

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. You can read about Jason's best workhere.
Just like the Beatles, the band seems to follow the rule "if you write the song, you sing it". Despite the different songwriting voices that populate the Truckers albums, all three songwriters are deeply rooted in, yet critical of, southern culture. In fact, they coined  “the duality of the southern thing" phrase, which spoke to the contradictions and complexity of southern culture. The band works hard, aren't afraid …