It’s been quite a week. Regular readers know I returned to the work force after a long hiatus. I intend to write more regular posts in the future but this week my time was pretty well consumed. So, no mix this weekend, but I will put up the post I was working on throughout the week.
I was a big fan of Pete Yorn’s debut album, “musicforthemorningafter” and I also liked a few tracks from his follow-up, “Day I Forgot.” He had kind of fallen off my radar for a while but I recently stumbled upon the fact that he released a collaboration in 2009 with none other than bombshell actress Scarlett Johansson. Now, I was much impressed with Johansson’s work in Lost in Translation and Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m afraid I missed her in Eight Legged Freaks, Home Alone 3, and The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, nor did I see her in Iron Man 2 (yet), The Black Dahlia, or The Other Boleyn Girl. Still, I had no idea she had any interest in or gift for music.
Turns out she does. In fact, I’m sure many of you are aware of her rather extensive work in music. She has worked with The Jesus and Mary Chain, Justin Timberlake, members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dave Sitek (of TV on the Radio) and even David Bowie. She has had songs on movie soundtracks, been written up in magazines like Spin, The Guardian, and NME, and released an album of covers of Tom Waits songs that reached the Billboard charts (which I have ordered). Somehow I missed all that.
Thus I was intrigued when I heard of this recent collaboration with Pete Yorn, whose folky pop style has always been easy on the ears even when it wasn’t inspired. I brought it home and was pleasantly surprised. The project is called “Break Up” and it is full of good new songs and well-chosen covers. The production is rich and the styles vary from song to song. Johansson brings some additional vocal texture and interest to the project and I think they were entirely successful. Check out a few winners.
- Relator – A broadly appealing pop melody and catchy, fuzzy guitar back lyrics about a dodgy relationship. The video is kind of funny because it stars the hot and magnetic Johansson and a comparatively awkward looking Yorn. He plays his guitar in sun glasses and she just sits there looking stunning.
- I Don’t Know What to Do – I just recommended this song on Friday, but I didn’t describe it much. This is probably my favorite track on the album, it has an alt-country feel but the song really sparkles when Johansson starts her Billie Holiday-esque croon.
- I Am the Cosmos – Yorn and Johansson try their hand at the old Chris Bell classic. They don’t break any new ground with it, but it’s a great song and this do a nice job with it.
- Clean – This is a beautiful song. Nice nodding pace and a good use of both voices. They sound great singing together.
I didn’t write up all the songs on this album I like, just my favorites. There are other good tracks for you to discover.
Last week’s mix wound up being mostly rocking music so I’ve had some mellower stuff piling up. This week I want to catch up on that. This isn’t sleepy stuff or even all ballads, but these have a consistent relaxed feel. This would actually make a pretty nice mix in your living room, which some of my themed mixes would not.
- I Don’t Know What to Do – Pete Yorn and Scarlet Johansson
I will be writing this entire album up next week, I think. It is surprisingly good. Johansson has a sweet voice and this track has an appealing organic pop vibe.
- Cosmic Rays – Helium
This is a beautiful and contemplative song with passages of pretty harmony vocals and passages of heavy chords and strings.
- Free Until They Cut Me Down – Iron & Wine
The ominously quiet acoustic groove persists for about half the song before the percussion kicks in. It never really builds much, though. The vocals stay almost whispered while banjo and acoustic guitar see us to the dwindling end.
- Birthday – The Sugar Cubes
Before Bjork struck out on her own, she was with The Sugar Cubes. I like exactly two songs by that band and this is one of them. It might be my favorite song Bjork ever did, too.
- Ain’t It So – Pigeonhed
Shawn Smith is the voice behind Pigeonhed, Satchel, and Brad. He’s a great songwriter and a singularly talented vocalist. His voice works particularly with this funk/soul vibe.
- Letters from the Sky – Civil Twilight
This track has gotten a lot of run in TV soundtracks lately, which is how it came to my attention. It has kind of a Coldplay meets old U2 thing going on. I like it.
- Go Get Some – David Lynch & John Neff
The David Lynch movie Mulholland Drive really stuck with me. There were a couple songs from the soundtrack that did the same. This instrumental is over 7 minutes long and it gets weird at times, but it’s a great vibe.
- Failure – Kings of Convenience
The Kings remind me of Simon and Garfunkel in that many of their songs are pretty, mellow, and feature guitar and two-part harmony. This one actually has a bit more of an arrangement with some strings and horns joining in by the end. They are my favorite group that fits into the indie category.
- Why Did You Call? – The Magic Numbers
I just wrote up the Numbers’ debut album a few weeks ago, but this is from their new album. Their sound on this one is much more produced, though not overly so, and the songs are as appealing as ever. This is a minute-long sample on YouTube.
- Wilted Daisies – Joshua James
My ex turned me onto this guy last week. He’s got the most interesting and expressive new voice I’ve heard since Ray LaMontagne and this track comes in pretty and small before becoming a big, country-influenced jam.
- Sugar Never Tasted So Good – The White Stripes
My girlfriend recently turned me onto this track, which had somehow flown under my radar even though I’m a big Jack White fan. It’s simple but catchy and sparkles with lyrical genius.
- On and On and On – Wilco
Jeff Tweedy used to write a lot of cute and goofy songs, but as he has matured and seen greater success, his songs have deepened and now Wilco routinely puts out songs that are daring or complex or moving, like this one.
- Inside and Out – Feist
The album version of this song sounds like disco-era Abba or something, but when she plays this unaccompanied on her guitar you hear what a beautiful melody this is.
- Machines – Mason Jennings
Jennings grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and dropped out of school to pursue his musical career… in Minneapolis, MN. I didn’t realize MN had such a hot music scene but it seems to have been a good move. Or maybe that tells us this guy would have succeeded no matter where he went.
Enjoy this mix with a mimosa, because mimosas are yummy and not too hard. Have a great weekend.
I frequent some music festivals and I enjoy live music. As a result, I have seen Widespread Panic many times. They put on a tremendous live show and I recommend catching them when they come to your town. I remember first hearing about Panic in the late 1980s, so the boys have been at it a long time. Over the years, Panic has put out 11 studio albums and 8 live ones. It is an impressive body of work with some truly classic songs. Today, I want to turn you on to what I think is their best studio effort, “’Til the Medicine Takes.”
“’Til the Medicine Takes” was produced by John Keane, who has done a lot of work with Widespread Panic, as well as R.E.M., The Indigo Girls, 10,000 Maniacs, and others. I mention this because I find the production on this album to be fantastic. The guitar sound is big and driving, the percussion pops and fits nicely, the keyboards are sick, and John Bell’s trademark wail sounds beautiful. And for this album, Panic even brought in a guest turntablist, Colin Butler. Listen to the production when you get to the songs so you can get what I’m talking about.
The songs themselves are fabulous as well. There are a few love songs, but they always come at the topic from an odd direction. There are other songs about celebrating nature, hard times and drugs, and some that I frankly don’t understand. The players pull off some great individual performances and everything blends seamlessly, even synergistically. And to cap things off, the packaging is among the best I have ever seen in a CD, with silvery, psychedelic images of the band members in multiple fold-outs.
Because they are famously so good live, studio versions are impossible to find on YouTube. You’ll have to settle for these Amazon samples, but do go buy the disc. You won’t regret it.
- Surprise Valley – Listen to how the various instruments all leap to the fore as appropriate. Even the bass solo rocks. The percussion is complex and impossible to ignore, but it doesn’t dominate the song. This rocking track ends with a 1-minute beautiful instrumental denouement.
- Bear’s Gone Fishin’ – The lyrics are a little impenetrable, but Bell has always had a knack for turning a cool phrase. Even if you don’t understand what the song is about – which I don’t – it’s fun to listen to. Great backing vocals in this track, too.
- Climb to Safely – This is the song that came on my iPod today and inspired me to write up this album. I love the keyboard work in this rocker that eventually turns out to be an odd love song.
- The Waker – Bell has always been a prolific songwriter, but I really love the songs penned by the late, great Michael Houser. The melody is beautiful without being sleepy and the lyrics are deep and evocative. Producer John Keane adds the banjo on this track.
- Dyin’ Man – This is my favorite song on this album and the reason I bought it. The scratching and production effects decorate a clever and hard rocking song about how losing a woman has ruined his life.
- One Arm Steve – The crowd all gets up and dances when Panic breaks this one out in concert. It’s got a great groove and again the lyrics are cool as hell.
- All Time Low – This song reminds me of some of The Rolling Stones bigger, more rocking tunes. It starts off pretty modestly, but by the end the drums and guitar are enormous, the piano sounds like a carnival, and the last few available square inches of sound are filled by gospel choir backing vocals. Fantastic.
In September of 2010, keyboardist John “Jojo” Hermann said in an interview that after one final studio release and one more summer of touring, the band is planning on going on hiatus. One can image that after this many years and the sad, untimely death of founding member Michael Houser in 2002 from pancreatic cancer, a “hiatus” may be permanent. That said, I urge you to look for their tour dates and catch them if you can.
Today I have to write about an album you have probably already heard. But on the off chance that there’s someone out there who missed it, I want to add my voice to the chorus of people praising “Raising Sand” by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
“Raising Sand” won album of the year in 2009 and it seems to me it could hardly miss. You start with Allison Krauss, who has won the 3rd most Grammy Awards of anyone all-time (behind conductor Georg Solti and performer/composer/producer/conductor Quincy Jones). Then you add rock legend Robert Freaking Plant of Led Zeppelin. Then Grammy winning producer T-Bone Burnett steps in and they recruit a host of jazz and bluegrass legends to back them up. The result was a platinum selling, critically acclaimed masterpiece.
Clearly, the focus of “Raising Sand” is the amazingly sweet pairing of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Krauss has a lovely voice, obviously, and a great feel for the bluegrass and folk that permeates the album. Plant is versatile and also quite comfortable singing folk music. Plant’s slightly rougher voice works incredibly well with hers and they harmonize beautifully. Krauss’ pure-as-ringing-crystal voice keeps them grounded while Plant’s loose style and rock fills keep things from getting sterile. It’s a potent combination.
Meanwhile, the musical textures of the album are wonderful. As the producer, Burnett gets credit for the overall sound of the album. It is at times warm and comfortable, at others driving and danceable. The musicians include men like Marc Ribot, Mike Seeger (half-brother of Pete), and bluegrass legend Norman Blake. These guys know their business and Burnett uses them brilliantly.
I often cherry pick albums so I don’t have to listen to some tracks I’m not crazy about. “Raising Sand” goes right in the CD player. They set a consistent mood throughout the album and the whole thing is great. I like these 7 in particular.
- Rich Woman – They open “Raising Sand” with this track. Oozy guitars, smoky percussion, and effortless harmony vocals ease you right in.
- Killing the Blues – John Prine’s original version of this song is slow and soft, but it sounds harsh next to the sanded smoothness of Krauss and Plant’s sweet crooning and gentle slide guitar.
- Polly Come Home – This is one of two Gene Clark songs on this disc. If they played it any slower it would stop altogether, but somehow it is quietly compelling.
- Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) – This is an old Everly Brothers tune and the original hops. Krauss and Plant do it credit with their energetic version and the close harmony work on this is as good as any song on the album.
- Please Read the Letter – The composers of this were actually Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. This is an old Zeppelin song that never made the cut. Plant was delighted to dust it off and get Krauss’ voice and violin in this new interpretation for its release.
- Fortune Teller – Allen Toussaint wrote this cute song back in 1962. Since then it has been covered by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Hollies, and now these two.
- Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson – Plant takes a seat and Krauss sings this without him. The studio musicians are hot, though, and they swing this blues classic by Little Milton.
I saw Robert Plant and Alison Krauss perform at Bonnaroo last year when they toured on this album. I think it had been a long time since Plant had played in front of quite so many screaming fans. He was very obviously blown away and having a great time. It was fun to watch. Plant and Krauss actually started working on a follow-up to “Raising Sand,” but Plant said in an interview published in USA Today that those sessions never found their groove and they apparently gave up on it. Too bad. Interestingly, Plant hung around in Nashville and put together another project, “Band of Joy,” which I only discovered today. I have ordered it, of course. I’ll let you know.
It’s starting to feel like fall where I live. We’re getting comfortable days and just starting to see some color in the trees. I’m psyched. From here through Halloween, this is my favorite time of year. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.” I always found fall to be a more romantic season. What could be lovelier than hiking in cool autumn air with the leaves looking like stained glass above you? The holidays loom ahead. It’s starting to get cool enough at night to build a fire. No. Fall is the season for love.
With that thought, I put together another mix of love songs, this one with more modern music. I hope you like it, particularly any readers who find themselves falling in love.
- Think I’m In Love – Beck
Beck is such a genius, especially when he writes honest songs about his life. Don’t get me wrong, I love his funky, fun songs, but stuff like this and songs from “Sea Change,” for example, are moving. This is what it’s like when you’re first falling. “I think I’m in love but it makes me kind of nervous to say so.”
- Fresh Feeling – Eels
E gives us a mellow and wholesome strings-laced groove about those first few weeks of love.
- Satisfy – Me’Shell Ndegéocello
When Ndegeocello is angry she writes emotionally charged, strident songs that can be jarring. When she is in love, though, she writes gorgeous ballads like this.
- Hold You In My Arms – Ray LaMontagne
One thing you know about Ray LaMontagne if you listen to his music: he loves his woman to pieces. He has an absolutely beautiful voice and this song almost hurts.
- Sweet Thing – The Waterboys
This is, in my opinion, the best cover anyone has ever done of a Van Morrison song. I might even like it better than the original, and that is saying something. The mandolin and strings are a perfect foil for the whining vocals. I have read that the ‘Blackbird’ homage at the end of this song was a studio ad lib. Wow.
- Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes – Taj Mahal
The versatile Taj Mahal gives us a mellow, bluesy love song. And it’s a little prettier than ‘Big Legged Mommas Are Back In Style.’
- I’ll Make Love To You Anytime – J.J. Cale
The man who wrote ‘After Midnight’ and ‘Cocaine’ for Eric Clapton performs his own music now (and occasionally collaborates with Clapton). This is a cool love song.
- Into Your Arms – The Lemonheads
I always liked Dando’s songwriting and especially his voice. This one takes me back to college, which may be why it speaks to me.
- How Deep Is Your Love? – Jonatha Brooke
Brooke is fantastic. I always thought she was going to break through and be huge. This is a funky groove with an oozy chorus and great, bending vocals.
- Gift – Rocco DeLuca & The Burden
OK, so I wrote this up just the other day. It is a beautiful love song and I really wanted to include it in this mix. This one is all about the great vocal melody and how it fits with the lyrics.
- Passion – Dionne Farris
And speaking of talented women who I always thought would break through and be huge… Give a listen to this great track. Her vocal performance is inspiring and the lyrics lay it right out there. You really can feel the passion.
- Weight of the World – The Samples
I honestly don’t know if anyone outside of the Denver/Boulder area is familiar with The Samples. I heard them a lot when I lived out there and I always thought this was a beautiful pop song.
- Here In My Room – Incubus
They didn’t coin the phrase “Love is verb” but I like they way they use it here with solid piano and wailing guitar.
- The World Exploded Into Love – Bob Schneider
I have followed Bob Schneider for his entire career, starting with Joe Rockhead almost 20 years ago. He continues to grow as a songwriter and a few years ago he came up with this gem. People are already covering it.
- Joy Inside My Tears – Stevie Wonder
Stevie has brought a lot of joy himself, but this one is to his wife, who brought him joy. Like most of the songs on “Songs in the Key of Life,” this one is laid out in the first few minutes, but goes on for several more minutes of fantastic riffing and soloing.
- Transatlanticism – Death Cab For Cutie
I couldn’t pick another song as a closer for this mix. Sometimes these guys lose me, but this love anthem is perfect. I like how he repeats “I need you so much closer” over and over again before the big layered vocals at the end demand “So come on! Come on!”
Enjoy this mix with a hot toddy. Have a great weekend.
Travel. There is nothing like it to broaden the mind, heal the soul, and make you appreciate home. My wife is on a plane to Korea right now. I also have an old friend who just got back to the U.S. from Thailand. He visited me this week and is driving back home to Texas via Chicago this weekend. This put me in a mind to assemble a mix of travel related songs.
- Stay Where You Are – Ambulance Ltd.
Everyone needs time off. I have friends who take “staycations.” I don’t do that very often. It’s affordable, but why do you work if not to be able to go cool places. No, you have to get out and…
- See the World – Gomez
This is why everyone leaves home, right? OK, business occasionally, but everyone likes to see someplace new at times. This is a sweet acoustic melody about traveling and finding yourself a mate.
- Leaving Home Ain’t Easy – Queen
One of the things that makes Queen so fantastic is all four members are great songwriters. This is one of Brian May’s songs about how setting out into the world is hard on you and on the people you leave behind.
- Go Outside & Drive – Blues Traveler
If you want to travel, this is inevitable. This is from “Save His Soul,” which was always my favorite Blues Traveler album. In BT’s typical sunny pop fashion, John Popper is overcome by inertia in this song.
- Setting Forth – Eddie Vedder
Vedder did the soundtrack for Into the Wild and it is fantastic all the way through. My favorite song on the album is a cover of “Hard Sun,” but this one is also great.
- The Bed’s Too Big Without You – Sting (feat. Rankin Roger)
Sting does a much more up-tempo version of this song without The Police. The version released on The Truth About Cats and Dogs soundtrack features Rankin Roger (of The English Beat and General Public). Sadly, this sample doesn’t give you much, but here is a mediocre live version with Rankin Roger.
- Woman Driving, Man Sleeping – Eels
Well, instead of missing your significant other, bring him/her along. I love a road trip. E completely captures the feel of a late night drive on this track. Love it.
- The Way – Fastball
I included this for the chorus, “Where were they going without ever knowing the way?” The downside of driving is getting lost. This tune always makes me think of Smash Mouth. I like the retro feel and the keyboards.
- Airline to Heaven – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Well, you can always fly. You can’t get to most places without doing it. This is a fantastic track from “Mermaid Avenue Vol. II” that features the winning combination of joyful acoustic guitar and handclap percussion.
- Plane Crash – moe.
This is the genius of Rob Derhak, the bass player. The song is towering, with several distinct passages, but the lyrics are just perfect. And I have to confess, I think about this song most times I get on an airplane.
- Mr. Cab Driver – Lenny Kravitz
If you flew – and didn’t crash – you need a cab. Kravitz tells us of the difficulty a dreadlocked black man has getting a cab. It’s from his first album and the energy is unbelievable.
- Camping Next to Water– Badly Drawn Boy
OK, so it’s not how you get there, but what you do when you get there. One of my favorite reasons to travel is to go camping. Damon Gough has a delicate hand with this pretty acoustic tune from “Hour of the Bewilderbeast.”
- Homesick – Kings of Convenience
If you’re gone too long from home, no matter how cool your vacation is, you miss it. Seems like more than half the songs the Kings write are melancholy, but they are nearly all beautiful. They’re very Simon and Garfunkel, but that’s OK with me.
- Many Rivers to Cross – UB40
UB40 does a fantastic job with this old Jimmy Cliff song about struggling against adversity to find your way home. Both the lead and backup vocal performances are wonderful.
- Souvenir – Neil Finn
“It’s nice to go traveling, but it’s so much nicer to come home.” — Frank Sinatra. Hopefully, you picked up a souvenir to remember it. Finn has a great talent for pop songs. This is a pleasing melange of strings and guitar with well-mixed percussion.
As I put this mix together, I discovered it is a rich topic and I imagine I will put together a few more mixes along these lines in the future. Enjoy this with orange juice from a can and a teeny tiny bottle of airline vodka. Have a great weekend.
My brother is a musician in Texas. He travels all over the South a lot, but doesn’t get back up north as often as he’d like. I also haven’t been down to Texas to visit him in many years. We talk on the phone a lot, but haven’t seen each other in a long time. What can I say? We suck.
Well, he was in town this week playing a gig and I had dinner and some drinks with him Wednesday night. Then I had a beer during his show last night and then a couple more with him after the show. Not too much because I had an hour drive after the show. But enough.
It was very good to see the man, but after 2 nights out drinking with my brother I’m moving a little slow. No metal today. Today, I’m in the mood for something a little more relaxing. Many of these songs feature acoustic instruments, though there is plenty of electric stuff too. It’s not sleepy music, but it is on the mellower side.
- The Bull and the Goat – Annuals
So it’s a lower-energy and acoustic mix. You still have to kick it off with something at least a little up-tempo. All of the instrumental parts are well-written to work with the vocal melody. I particularly like the work by the rhythm section (which includes the bass).
- Preacher’s Sister’s Boy – Blitzen Trapper
While I wasn’t knocked out by their live show, I love their new EP, “Black River Killer,” and this is a great track from that release.
- Me You and Everybody – Gomez
I would listen to Ben Ottewell sing the ingredients list on a bag of Doritos. I love his voice and this is a typically great, evocative song from the band.
- Resurrect Me – Jon Foreman
This isn’t mellow; it’s an acoustic rocker of a pop song. I think I hear a little sitar ringing between the hand claps.
- Wind It Up – moe.
Listen to one of my all-time favorite moe. songs, though all of the best parts are missing from this sample. It’s an 8-minute epic that builds from a quiet keyboards and clean guitar through several movements until it is a towering love song that declares in triumphant harmony, “Be on my side. I’ll be on your side.”
- Crosseyed Beautiful Youngunz – Love As Laughter
Gentle guitar and some vibes set the mood as vocalist Sam Jayne takes his time dropping the notes of this pretty melody.
- Fieldtrip USA – Moonbabies
Moonbabies are a Swedish pop duo. On this track, keyboards accent the plucked acoustic guitar as Ola Frick and Carina Johansson sing harmony in the pretty verses and the energetic chorus.
- Check the Meaning – Richard Ashcroft
When Ashcroft (formerly of The Verve) misses, I am left completely flat. When he hits, however, the result is brilliant and well-arranged tracks like this one.
- Hang On – Guster
I’m not sure which Guster is better at writing, pop melodies or emotional lyrics. Either way, here is a fine example of their great songsmithing.
- Stuck – Norah Jones
I like the new direction Jones has taken on her latest release. Less sleepy lounge music, more electric pop. I think I even almost hear a couple electric power chords in the chorus.
- Weather to Fly – Elbow
They assemble a relaxing groove of ambling percussion behind descending chords, mellow horns, and smoky vocals.
- Man in a Shed – Nick Drake
Some of Drake’s songs haven’t aged well. They’re either too melancholy or just too much a product of the times. This one, however, is one of many that really hold up. The happy piano work sounds almost like something Vince Guaraldi (Peanuts music) could have written.
- The Search – Dolorean
This has a mellow southern rock / Appalachian country feel to it, like some stuff you might have gotten from The Eagles. I like it as a closer.
Oh, and this is completely off-topic, but I’m a Clevelander and I want to respond briefly to the LeBron James defection. Hey, Cavs fans. Yes, we’re disappointed. And yes, LeBron looks like a douchebag for arranging a one-hour special to announce he’s putting his house on the market. But let’s show a little backbone, OK? This town has seen worse and we’ll see better.
I hope you enjoy the mix with a Dortmunder or an Eliot Ness from Cleveland’s excellent Great Lakes Brewery. Or if you’re like me and have had too much beer lately, how about a tall glass of ice water?
I think a lot of artists get frustrated with some of the crowds at Bonnaroo. Bands who are used to wowing the crowd and rocking the house are sometimes perplexed that they don’t get as much energy back from the audience as they’re used to. There are two reasons for that. The main thing is that people are spent. By the time the big evening shows come on, people have spent 9 or more hours in the June Tennessee sun, they’ve danced, maybe drank during the day, and probably didn’t get that much sleep the night before to begin with. The other thing is that a live show, which is usually a highlight of your week, becomes almost commonplace. I had seen over 20 shows before Sunday kicked off.
I have heard front men ask the crowd, “Are you digging this at all?” And we are. The crowds are very appreciative. That’s why we brave the traffic, expense, and elements to see the shows. We’re just tired and a little jaded. I remember festival veteran Jeff Tweedy of Wilco saying, “I know you’re hot and tired and enjoying the music. I’m not going to ask you to sing or clap with me. Just be comfortable and we’re gonna play some music for you, alright?” That probably got the biggest hand Wilco had received thus far in their set. It was with a mixture of sadness and relief that I set out to see the shows on Sunday.
I have been a long time fan of Calexico and theirs was the first show I saw Sunday. They were in fine form playing their slippery blend of rock and mariachi Tex-mex. The songs are often mellow, but surging with controlled energy. Here is a good recording of great performance of a representative track. I loved “Feast of Wire” and have another on order right now. Check them out.
I stopped by Lucero’s show, not having done any homework on them and not knowing what to expect. Turns out they play deep southern rock that is almost country. The songs are heartfelt and kind of cool but definitely not my thing. I will still recommend it to folks who lean that way. Check out this track, for example. I like this one. I just didn’t enjoy the show too much and I left. Sorry, Lucero. It’s not you; it’s me.
After that I had to go check out Blues Traveler. They’re not as hot as they were in the 1990s and I have seen them before. Still, I love their songs, what’s left of John Popper remains the most impressive harmonica player I have ever seen, and their first 3 albums were the soundtrack to my fun post-college years. The guys still have it. It was an energetic and fun show, in spite of the fact that my attempts to claw and elbow my way into the tent for some shade failed.
I had to pass on They Might Be Giants, Dropkick Murphy’s, and saddest of all Ween because I needed some shade, food, and beer at my tent for a little while. I returned to the venue much refreshed and ready for the last two shows of the weekend.
Phoenix is a band from Versailles, France that has been at it for about 10 years now. I really enjoyed their set of ear friendly pop with elements of electonica. The first minute I walked up, I didn’t think I was going to like it because radio pop usually has a little bit of a hill to climb with me, but they won me over by keeping most of their songs either a little edgy or surprising.
The final show of the week was Dave Matthews Band. I have been a big fan of DMB since I saw them at Red Rocks in 1994 (before the official release of “Under the Table and Dreaming”) opening up for Los Lobos who were in turn opening up for Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Judging from the number of platinum albums under their belt, there is a great chance that everyone reading this has at least 1 DMB album. I am pleased that their new album, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” is great and has some tremendous music on it, particularly because they played a lot of songs from it. Matthews himself seemed either a little goofy or maybe just drunk, but it didn’t stop him or any of the band – including former Flecktone Jeff Coffin, filling in for the untimely deceased LeRoi Moore – from putting on a powerful rock show. DMB has been at this for 20 years and had no problem engaging the 50,000+ in the field.
Another Bonnaroo come and gone. Nothing left but to finish the beer back at camp and get ready to pack it up in the morning. It’s always strange to head back to civilization, where people wear the full complement of clothes and don’t drink beer at 10:00 AM. Throughout the day when we encountered grungy, weary people in gas stations and fast food restaurants on our way home we would look for the bracelet and share a nod or a smile. I wonder who is going to headline next year…
While I was playing “Hold Time” by M. Ward today and writing this post, my daughter asked me with a bit of a wrinkle in her nose, “Do you like this stuff, Daddy?” I told her I did, but I had to confess that M. Ward is perhaps a better songwriter than he is a singer. That said, most of these are his songs, and he delivers them with just the right feel. The album is simply assembled, but well produced. What “Hold Time” lacks in vocal polish, it more than makes up for in beautiful playing, brilliant lyrics, and pure emotional connection.
Matthew Ward is an indie folk / alt-country singer-songwriter from Portland, OR who goes by the stage name M. Ward. He has played with the likes of Beth Orton, Cat Power, Bright Eyes, and My Morning Jacket, and toured with R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen. For all his exposure and ranging around, I had never heard of M. Ward. I spun “Hold Time” with no preconceived notions and I was pleasantly surprised to hear the simple, organic sound you can play when your songs are this strong. In particular, I liked these 5 tracks
- Blake’s View – This is a beautiful song about comforting someone who has lost a loved one. “You say you lost your one and only. Could it get any worse? I said, ‘Death is just a door. You’ll be reunited on the other side.’”
- Epistemology – A nice fat guitar lick is the heart of this track. The lyrics talk about what he learned in his Catholic school upbringing, but ultimately it’s a love song.
- One Hundred Million Years – This one is just Ward and his guitar. The vocal line feels like folk, but the guitar riff sounds bluesy. It’s short, simple, and pleasing.
- Rave On – Zoe Deschanel joins Ward on this fat, poppy Buddy Holly cover. It’s mainly acoustic guitar and Ward again, but the hand claps, broad harmony vocals, and reverbed sound make this one feel bigger. This is probably my favorite track on this disc.
- For Beginners – The lyrics Ward set to this simple pop melody are somewhat enigmatic, but they are still great because they are evocative and full of imagery.
Since I was unfamiliar with M. Ward, I thought I might be telling you about an up-and-comer today. Turns out “Hold Time” is Ward’s 7th release since his 1999 debut, “Duet for Guitars #2.” Apparently, I now have to go back and explore the rest of the catalog. If anyone reading has any favorites I have to check out, leave a comment. Thanks.
Well, when I started this mix today, I thought this might be the final installment of female artists. I hadn’t realized how many artists I have that start with the letter S. Give a listen to these and, as always, let me know if there is someone you feel I grievously missed.
- Shelby Lynne – Your Lies
This isn’t my favorite song by Lynne, but it’s the single from her great album, “I Am Shelby Lynne.” She has kind of a bluesy crossover country thing going on that is great.
- Sheryl Crow – Riverwide
Crow is known for a lot of fun, rocking songs, but she is also deep enough to drop a beautiful, heartrending song like this one. I love her versatility as a singer and a songwriter.
- Shirley Horn – Return to Paradise (Mark De Clive-Lowe Remix)
I actually saw Shirley Horn in Manhattan a few years before her death. She was always an amazing jazz pianist and singer and she still put on an enjoyable show. This one is actually from the great series of Verve Remixed tracks where people mine the fantastic catalog of old Verve recordings and turn them into club tracks by updating the percussion and production.
- Sia Furler– Death By Chololate
Sia sings some of my favorite Zero 7 songs, but she is an accomplished solo artist who has collaborated with top acts and won awards. This video gets you a good listen to her voice, a good look at her face, and a good feel for her style.
- Siouxsie and the Banshees – Kiss Them for Me
OK, so she isn’t one of my favorite artists. I saw them at the first Lollapalooza in 1991 and they weren’t very good live. I’m not crazy about a lot of their other music either, but this one song has been in rotation in mixes and my iPod for nearly 20 years.
- Sneaker Pimps – 6 Underground (Nellee Hooper Remix)
I have several Sneaker Pimps tracks on my iPod, but this one is far and away my favorite. It is a remix by Nellee Hooper (formerly of the Wild Bunch, that would eventually become Massive Attack). That takes nothing away from the Pimps, who have had varying levels of success over the years. Kelli Dayton’s vocal performance on this track is right in the pocket, which is probably why it has been remixed by so many producers).
- Put a Lid on It – Squirrel Nut Zippers
Yes, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I have 4 albums by the Zippers and there is a lot of fun music on them all. Katharine Whalen and Jimbo Matthis split duties at lead vocals and both sing songs I love. This one is probably my favorite sung by Whalen, or at least my favorite up-tempo piece of hers.
- Stacey Kent – So Nice
Kent sings mostly songs from the American songbook. Her orchestra plays a pretty standard torchy nightclub sound, but she has a beautifully expressive, liquid voice. This one is gorgeous.
- Stevie Nicks – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
She has to at least get a mention. I’ve been listening to Stevie Nicks my whole life. I don’t have a ton of Fleetwood Mac on my iPod because I grew up listening to classic rock radio, so I’ve heard a dozen or so songs hundreds of times. I always liked this one, and my daughter has just turned on to Tom Petty so it lives on her mix now.
- The Story – When Two and Two Are Five
My wife turned me onto The Story. Jonatha Brooke eventually left the band and went on to put out a bunch of great music as a solo artist, but their 1993 release, “Angel in the House” has a lot of great music on it, including this one.
- The Sundays – Here’s Where the Story Ends
Harriet Wheeler has one of my very favorite voices of all time. It’s so pretty and sweet and the melodies she chooses make the lyrics even more moving. “Static and Silence” is a desert island disc for me, though this one is off Reading, Writing And Arithmetic.
- Suzanne Vega – Rock in this Pocket (Song of David)
Vega has a fine voice, but what has always drawn me to her music is the instrumentation and particularly the percussion. This one has a great feel, but I also love ‘As a Child,’ ‘99.9f,’ and a host of others.
Well, that was quite a crop just in the Ses. There might be enough in my collection for one more mix of great female artists. I hope you enjoy these. Have a great weekend.