A few words on the Music I Dug Most & You Should Hear in the past week:

Week of February 7:

This week I turn to YouTube, where a band that’s new to me–Tumbleweed Wanderers–have released an epic video their new original Bad Blood.  I tweeted on first hearing that it was “like Sabbath covering Elbow”–smart but also badass.  I’m not sure how much more I can add, but look: these guys totally nail the phrase “exit strategy” as a lyric in a pretty rocking tune–I mean let’s pay some homage, people.  Great bridge and buildup without being fussy.  And the rest of their tunes are great too–check them out, I did.  Really looking forward to their upcoming album and this would be a great band to see live.

You probably don’t need me to tell you about Brandi Carlile.  If you do, I just did: link.  I don’t know if this makes me a good or a bad fan, but I confess that while I like her music, it has been some of her cover that absolutely blow me away.  Point one: if you’re going to cover Fleetwood Mac, you’d better bring it  The Chain. Brought.  Vocals as raw and powerful as the original.  And when you’re having a bad day…here she is with the great John Prine doing “In Spite of Ourselves.”  Guaranteed to make you smile.

Week of January 24, 2015:

The first sixty seconds of Small Town Jones‘ single “A Night Full of Ghosts” may be a perfect minute of music.  I challenge you to listen repeatedly and do your damndest to find a syllable or a note that should be anything other than exactly  what it is. Moreover, I insist you close your eyes and  imagine the wonderful weathered book Jones is using as his cover art in your hands, slightly nubby worn fabric and palpably inset letters,  as you sit back in front of a fitful fire like Jones’ main character: it all holds together.  There’s a lot of texture Nick Drake and of the atmosphere of a Bon Iver, married to lyrics that are all the more effective for being unpretentious:  I try to reach you / I can never get close / Facing my demons / On a night full of ghosts.  Go support his Kickstarter campaign: help (insist?) this guy keep making great music.

Ok, while we’re on the topic of perfect, I have a bone to pick with Pitchfork’s review of Lyla Foy’s album Mirrors the Sky.  (Yeah, great strategy for a musician, harsh onPitchfork…).  She garners an abundantly respectable and well-deserved 7.3, but the reviewer complains that “the mood…can be too narrow.”  Dude…so, should Nick Drake have tossed us an upbeat number on Five Leaves Left?  Should Pink Floyd have slotted something danceable into The Wall? Great albums create a journey that straddles the line between a novel and one long song: Foy achieves this.  The album is not perfect (please don’t hate me, Ms. Foy – Astral Weeks for example, was perfect, I don’t call an album perfect lightly…) but it shouldn’t be other than what it is.  It heaves and roils like gray restless seas, and for all the dreamy quality of some moments, there’s a restless, relentless undertone that surfaces above the waves at moments (…if you’re not moving during No Secrets, call 911, you’re probably dead…).  So fair enough, I’ve put this album on when I was going down for nap–but not more than I’ve had it playing in the gym.  One of my favorite albums of the year: it’s insistent. It will stick with you and get in your head and your heart and you will like it.

For my part, I have few claims to perfection to make, but “What are Working Folks to Do?” – from opening (Without so much as “How-do-you-sir” / Or “Appreciate it thanks” / They took money from our pockets / And gave it to the banks) to the close (When there ain’t no better answer / To “daddy what else can we try?” /  Than what are working folks to do son– / I guess we’re supposed to die) I’d stand up as one my nearer misses.

Kudos paid to great artists in 2015 to date: 4

Week of January 17, 2015

A few words on the Music I Dug Most & You Should Hear in the past week:

St. Paul and the Broken Bones are the real deal: true, gritty, tonsil-shredding, toe-tapping, booty-shaking, and tear jerking soul.  Listening brings me back decades to the “wow” and the sense of commitment and energy I felt hearing early Springsteen.  (Plus there’s the surprise factor of expecting the lead singer ought to look like the late great Clarence Clemons and discovering instead that he’s kind of  a bookish white dude.)  The spirit of Motown lives on in these guy: we ought to thank them for keeping it real.  And even if that’s not your thing you owe it to yourself to check them out.

I’m way behind the times on this one: I only recently discovered Debbie Neigher’s music; so far I’m only in a position to comment on her 2011 self-titled debut.  But what a debut:  I’m pretty obsessive about lyrics, so if an artist is going to hang his or her hat on a  piano and clever turns of phrase odds are I’m not going to be wowed (unless you’re Regina Spektor, in which case I worship at your feet/pedals).  But I’m wowed: so many smart, surprising lines (“I’m lying on a bed of evergreens in my head” in Evergreens;  “There’s static on the radio but I can sing without the music anyway…. I can feel you without remembering your face anyway” in Frames). For me it calls to mind the estimable voice of Natalie Merchant plus that extra edge of more-than-just-pop creativity like Spektor delivers.

And now a word from our sponsor (that would be me).  Pride of place in the last week out of all the music I’ve been working on goes to Down to Our Last Dollar.  I constantly ask myself “what’s the first 30 seconds of music I want people to hear?”  (This is a fraught question, since the simple but epic first 30 seconds of Nebraska are why I learned to make music…)  There’s nothing fancy here: a piano riff that I wouldn’t add a note to, and declarative lyrics that sum up the story of the photo from the Great Depression that inspired it:

In our rusty old truck alongside of the highway
In the Devil’s own corner of the USA
It’s down to fuel or food with our last dollar:
Darling I don’t think we’re having supper today
No darling I don’t think we’re having supper today

Kudos paid to great artists in 2015 to date: 2