Playlist #7

Happy Monday! And happy Flag Day! And happy birthday to my middle brother, Clyde (not his real name, but it’s what we all call him)! Today’s playlist is made up of songs he’d like.

  1. Hank Williams, “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”: Ol’ Hank Sr. does things his way, which involves writing songs about jambalaya and gumbo apparently.
  2. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, “Faded Love”: A beloved Okie who made a name for himself with a buncha Texans. Used to play the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa a lot back in the 1920s, I believe. This is some good ol’ fashioned sad dancin’ music.
  3. The Elected, “Sun, Sun, Sun”: More recent sad dancin’ music from one of the guys who was in Rilo Kiley (the guy who used to date Jenny Lewis, specifically).
  4. Feist and Ben Gibbard, “Train Song”: A few years ago, my brother and the young woman who sings with him, Kelly, did a cover of this song and put it on Youtube. Note that the song is (correctly) attributed to Vashti Bunyan, who did it originally, rather than as a Feist/Ben Gibbard joint, which would’ve gotten them many, many more views, I’m sure. C’est la vie.
  5. Van Morrison, “I Wanna Roo You (Scottish Derivative)”: Best Van Morrison song. Period.
  6. Iron & Wine with Calexico, “Prison on Route 41”: The last concert Clyde and I got to go to was back in February 2020, and it was to see these guys. They’re damn good. I’m ready to see concerts again.
  7. Merle Haggard, “Living With the Shades Pulled Down”: When he was courtin’ his wife, Clyde asked me to put together a mix CD for her (this is our love language). This song was on there. It’s good.
  8. M. Ward, “To Save Me”: When I was up in Pennsylvania visiting my brother a couple of weekends ago (for the first time since the Pandemic started), he played this song and asked what I thought of it. “I think M. Ward owes Jeff Lynne some royalties,” I replied, because this just sounds like an ELO song. A damn good ELO song, but an ELO song.
  9. Skee-Lo, “I Wish”: Clyde had this CD when he was a kid and he really liked it. He also had Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony and Blackstreet. What I’m saying is that my brother had slightly more street cred than I did in middle school, when I was mostly listening to the Beatles and Pink Floyd.
  10. Rolling Stones, “Tumbling Dice”: Included for the explicit reason that he absolutely hates this song. Detests it. And what kind of brother would I be if I didn’t give just a little nudge now and again?

Playlist #6

I had some trouble putting together this week’s playlist. At first, I wanted to do all delta blues-type stuff, but I kept adding songs that weren’t in that style/genre. Then I finally deleted all of that playlist and put together what you see below, an R&B/soul set that I think is pretty good.

  1. Aaron Neville, “Everybody Plays the Fool”: Dude’s voice is very distinctive, and I like this song mostly for the little keyboard flourish at the end of the chorus.
  2. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”: This song just rules, plain and simple. The vocal delivery from both Gaye and Terrell is magnificent, and this is just one of the best R&B/soul songs ever.
  3. Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)”: Aretha is the queen, and this song is just one of many reasons why. Honestly, I could’ve put any Aretha Franklin song on this list and it would’ve slapped. She’s just that good.
  4. Nina Simone, “Strange Fruit (Live)”: Shivers. Every damn time. This woman…just…damn.
  5. Ike & Tina Turner, “Proud Mary”: No one does a rave up like Tina Turner. Ike can go to hell, though.
  6. Jackie Wilson, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher”: Damn, but this guy’s voice. Just listen to him hit those high notes. It’s great.
  7. James Brown, “I Feel Good”: You can’t help but sing along with the Godfather of Soul when this one comes on.
  8. Ray Charles, “Hallelujah I Love Her So”: Ray just knocks it out of the park on this one. And every one. He’s just so good.
  9. Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come”: This man. This voice. This song. God damn.
  10. Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine”: The repeated, “I know,” over and over, long past when you’d think he’d run out of breath…so good. And fun to play on the guitar, too.

Playlist #5

Monday was our friend Lauren’s birthday, so here’s a Lauren-centric playlist to help her celebrate!

  1. Sarah Donner, “With Pride”: A song about acceptance and unicorns (or Pegasi, which I’m pretty sure is the plural of Pegasus).
  2. Waxahatchee, “Sparks Fly”: I like the simplicity of their arrangements. And the lyrics. And I think Lauren might be the only other person I know who listens to them.
  3. Cyndi Lauper, “She Bop”: I originally chose “The Goonies Are Good Enough,” but I feel Lauren would approve of this choice more.
  4. Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”: This one also goes on my Philosophy Playlist, which I’ll hopefully someday find more than four songs for (current list includes this song, that one Edie Brickell song, the Ben Folds Five’s “Philosphy,” and the Monty Python song about drunk philosophers).
  5. k.d. lang, “Constant Craving”: Did you know the Rolling Stones totally ripped this song off for their song “Has Anybody Seen My Baby”? It’s true! And also not as good a song as this one.
  6. The Doubleclicks, “Sensitive Badass”: Because Lauren is sensitive and she is a badass.
  7. Velvet Underground, “Candy Says”: I’m not super-familiar with the Velvet Underground, but this is a mellow tune and it’s probably about drugs. Or sex. Or sex and drugs.
  8. Dresden Dolls, “Shores of California”: There aren’t many songs that reference Oklahoma, let alone in their chorus. This one does, though.
  9. Lizzo, “Good As Hell”: I dare you to listen to this song and not want to sing along. I defy you to not dance to it. You can’t not dance to this song. This song is, in fact, good as hell.
  10. Bikini Kill, “Rebel Girl”: A thrashy, punky middle finger to the establishment and a lesbian love song for the ages. I think Lauren would approve.

Playlist #4

The end of the school year is fast approaching. Here’s some songs to ride out this week:

1. The Pixies, “Where Is My Mind”: The Wife loves the Pixies. I’m pretty okay with them most of the time.

2. Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Inside”: Most ridiculous name for a band ever? It’s definitely in the top ten. Awesome song? Also definitely.

3. 2Pac, “Keep Ya Head Up”: Uplifting rap about respect for women. A good ‘un.

4. XTC, “Stupidly Happy”: It’s a goofy song that I just love to pieces.

5. William Elliott Whitmore, “Diggin’ My Grave”: This guy does more with a banjo and a stomp box than most bands do with a full ensemble. He also sounds like he’s had a few packs of cigarettes too many.

6. Traffic, “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”: If there’s a stinker on the list this week, it’s probably this song. It’s too long and pretty repetitive. The only reason I put it on is because I read that one of the Mussel Shoals Rhythm Section (who play on the album this is from) passed away this weekend.

7. Tom Waits,”Sixteen Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six”: If there’s a more sinister line than “I’m gonna whittle you into kindlin’,” I don’t think I’ve heard it.

8. Tom Lehrer, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”: First heard it many years ago on the Dr. Demento Show, and the tune holds up. Can’t help giggling every time I get to the line, “And maybe we’ll do in a squirrel or two.”

9. Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Sixteen Tons”: Sure, it’s predominantly about how awful the blue collar worker’s life is, but there’s also that verse about how you shouldn’t mess with him because he’ll kill you. And that’s pretty baller.

10. Filter, “Take a Picture”: For about two months during my freshman year of college, I was completely obsessed with this song. I even bought the CD that it was on (this is what we had to do back before you could just download whatever songs you wanted onto your phone, back in the distant 1990s). It was…not at all like the rest of the album.

Playlist #3

A little less of a downer this week. Let’s gooooo:

  1. Hunters & Collectors, “Throw Your Arms Around Me”: Apparently Australia’s unofficial national anthem? So says one of my coworkers who told me I should learn the song. It’s only three chords, so that will be pretty easy.
  2. Nur-D, “Brighter Day”: Rapper out of Minnesota who decided last year to shift from rapping about nerd culture (Superman, Power Rangers, etc.) to discussing Black Lives Matter and issues near and dear to his community. He still slips in stuff about superheroes and nerdy stuff, though.
  3. Hozier, “Take Me to Church”: Someday I’m gonna put together a playlist of songs relating sex to religion (this one, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” and Bruno Mars’s “Locked Out of Heaven,” just to name a few) and write an essay about the concept.
  4. The Replacements, “Alex Chilton”: Back in the day when the sister-in-law and I played Rock Band every day, we loved playing this song. It took us forever to five star it at the hard difficulty, but the rush when we finally did…awesome.
  5. Savage Garden, “I Want You”: Did you know there were actual words to this song? I mean, more than that whole “chickey-cherry cola” line? It’s true!
  6. Violent Femmes, “American Music”: “Everytime I look at that ugly moon/It reminds me of me” is one of the best self-deprecating lines ever. Fight me.
  7. The Wallflowers, “Misfits and Lovers”: I know my brother doesn’t like the album this song is off of, but I absolutely love this track (and that whole album, Glad All Over). Again, fight me.
  8. Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine”: I just love the way she works her words and phrases in this song. It’s just perfect, as is the church bell.
  9. The Flaming Lips, “Fight Test”: Best Flaming Lips song. Fight me (it’s appropriate this time).
  10. Fleetwood Mac, “Gypsy”: My wife hates Fleetwood Mac. Hates them. But this song is my jam. She won’t fight me, but that’s probably for the best.

Playlist #2

Here’s this week’s playlist. I was feeling a little more melancholy this week than last, which I feel is reflected in the selections.

  1. Josh Ritter, “Come and Find Me”: Pretty sure most of this song is just a G chord with little variations to keep it interesting.
  2. The Lemonheads, “Into Your Arms”: One of my team teachers loves the Lemonheads (she’s seen them in concert dozens if not hundreds of times) and I learned how to play this song on the guitar for her. It’s a good and simple song.
  3. The Low Millions, “Eleanor”: Did you know Leonard Cohen’s son had a band? And it was this band? And they never put out another album other than the one this song is on? It’s all true.
  4. The Marshall Tucker Band, “Can’t You See”: I’m a sucker for songs with a real simple chord progression, and this one is just D, C, G, D the entire way through. That’s it. No variation, no chorus, nothing but those three chords.
  5. The National, “90-Mile Water Wall”: My favorite part of this early song from the National is that you can hear the lead singer breathing into the microphone if you listen for it.
  6. Neko Case, “Margaret and Pauline”: Such a beautiful song and character sketch. The juxtaposition of the two characters is sad and gorgeous.
  7. Sturgill Simpson, “Keep It Between the Lines”: Part of the album Simpson wrote ostensibly as advice to his newly-born child, this one advises the listener to, “Stay in school/stay off the hard stuff and/keep it’ tween the lines.” Good advice for anyone, really.
  8. Uncle Tupelo, “High Water”: There was a time in graduate school where I became more than a little obsessed with everything even tangentially related to the band Wilco, which included Jeff Tweedy’s original band Uncle Tupelo. This song, from their fourth and final album, is a good indicator of why I liked them so much if not really representative of what they did as a band (think “punk country” or “alt-country,” if you will).
  9. Van Morrison, “Wonderful Remark”: Specifically, the version from the Philosopher’s Stone collection of outtakes and rarities. The original version is awesome, too, though this one somehow feels more striped down without the overwhelming piano of the original (and this one has flute).
  10. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, “Friends”: Ryan Adams, I think we can all agree, has some problems. Dude is terrible to women and suffers from diarrhea of the recording studio (remember those times he put out three albums in a single calendar year? Yeah, I said times, plural, ’cause he’s done it more than once). But this song, from the double-album Cold Roses (which I still insist would have made one of the finest single albums of his career if he’d just cut some of the fat from the two-disc set), is still one of the best he’s ever written or committed to tape.

Playlist #1

I’ve started creating weekly playlists, ten songs each. Trying not to repeat artists from week to week or on a playlist. Don’t want to replicate songs from week to week. Here’s last week’s playlist.

  1. Bruce Springsteen, “Ain’t Good Enough For You”: Uptempo and fun, a joyful bop to start us off.
  2. Johnny Cash, “Out Among the Stars”: Could anyone other than Johnny Cash write such a cheerful, uplifting song about a kid committing suicide by cop? No, they could not. And that chorus is awesome.
  3. Dog’s Eye View, “Everything Falls Apart”: You could have told me this song could have been written and performed by any of a few dozen guitar-based alternative rock groups from the ’90s and I would have believed you. It is so completely generic that you could replace the lyrics with gibberish and folks would still bounce around to it.
  4. Bob Dylan, “Positively Fourth Street”: The meanest kiss-off song in the business, even sixty or so years later. No one lays down a sick burn like a scorned Dylan.
  5. The Interrupters, “She’s Kerosene”: Who doesn’t like a little skank in their music? Commies, that’s who.
  6. Madonna, “Like a Prayer”: Remember how controversial this song and video were back in the ’80s? All those burning crosses and the Black Jesus! It’s a damn good song, though.
  7. Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto”: I dunno, I like the keyboards.
  8. Redbone, “We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee”: Native American band telling it like it is.
  9. Aimee Mann, “Great Beyond”: I absolutely adore the work of Aimee Mann and I’m kicking myself for the “no back to back songs from the same musician/band” rule I established for myself already.
  10. Hem, “Great Houses of New York”: Every song by this band feels like it belongs with a film. It’s all very cinematic. This song is no exception, except it’s exceptionally amazing. Like all of Hem’s work.

High Water Everywhere

Charley Patton, father of the delta blues, was born in Mississippi in 1891. He only lived until 1934, when he died of heart failure, but in that short 40-odd years, he transformed American music. According to this site, he recorded 57 tracks between 1929 and 1934, including the great “High Water Everywhere.”

Charley’s influence spread far beyond the Mississippi delta, reaching up into Minnesota and grabbing hold of a young Robert Zimmerman. Many, many years later, an older, more grizzled Bob Dylan would record a song that’s a bit of an ode to Charley Patton, “High Water (for Charley Patton)” off his album Love and Theft. The name and basic conceit came from “High Water Everywhere,” written about the great Mississippi River flood of 1927.

So high the water was risin’ our men sinkin’ down
Man, the water was risin’ at places all around
Boy, they’s all around
It was fifty men and children come to sink and drown

Oh, Lordy, women and grown men drown
Oh, women and children sinkin’ down
Lord, have mercy
I couldn’t see nobody’s home and wasn’t no one to be found

Charley Patton experienced the flood firsthand, and his original song is a harrowing exploration of that experience. Dylan’s own lyrical re-imagining takes that experience and renders it in a more expressionist way.

High water risin’, the shacks are slidin’ down
Folks lose their possessions and folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook, it broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, “You’re dancin’ with whom they tell you to
Or you don’t dance at all”
It’s tough out there
High water everywhere

Dylan’s words are no less impactful for their more esoteric tone. He cracks a few jokes, throws in a few asides to the audience, and generally keeps things humming along. But there’s one particular pair of lines in the song, a moment that sticks out in my mind or maybe stabs into it like an ice pick of thought. I can’t shake it. It’s:

“Don’t reach out for me, ” she said
“Can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?”

It gives me chills, that couplet. It feels like such a universal sentiment. With my anxiety and depression, it sometimes feels difficult to keep my own head above water, let alone help those around me. “Don’t reach out for me, can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?” It’s overwhelming sometimes. Does that stop me from reaching to help others, or reaching out for help myself? No. We’re all drowning. If I happen to drown but help you survive, isn’t that a worthy sacrifice?

2019 (Music) In Review

Hey, I’m only a couple of weeks into 2020, so this isn’t too late, right? Right.

Anyway, here’s my favorite ten albums from 2019, in no particular order…

Gary Clark, Jr. – This Land

This guy just shreds, man. Plenty of chunky distortion and great guitar riffs, and his lyrics are pretty great, too.

The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

A concept album built loosely around Dungeons and Dragons? By the Mountain Goats? Sign me up for that gaming session!

The National – I Am Easy to Find

If this album only gave us “Rylan,” it would still be one of the best albums of the year. That the whole album is fantastic, start to finish, is just gravy.

The Highwomen – The Highwomen

My god, these harmonies! An update on the Highwaymen concept from back in the ’80s (that of Johnny Cash, Kris Kristopherson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings fame) with a scad of kickass women grabbing music by the horns and it like it. I want more of this.

The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Break Lights

Is there such a thing as a bad New Pornographers album? I’ve yet to hear one. Weird that it didn’t have a Dan Bejar-led song on it, though.

Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet

Bird continues to put out challenging, engaging music consistently with each release, and this one is no exception to that. “Bloodless” was one of my favorite songs of the year.

Wilco – Ode to Joy

A mostly-acoustic affair, but it finds the Chicago band writing some of their best songs in years. It’s cozy, comfy, rainy Sunday afternoon music. And Jeff Tweedy still keeps my dream of chunky guitar hero alive.

Lizzo – Cuz I Love You

Didn’t expect this one, did you? Well, I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that guy who really likes to listen to Lizzo play the flute like a badass.

J.S. Ondara – Tales of America

Sometimes, you say it best with just an acoustic guitar and minimal backing. That’s Ondara’s debut, Tales of America, which I found through NPR. The previous sentence is the whitest sentence I have ever written, and I used to write term papers about English religion and society during the theatrical reformation period.

The Black Keys – Let’s Rock

What? Sometimes, I just like straight-ahead bluesy rock. This is not an interrogation. Go away.

Favorites: The Wallflowers’ Breach

On a whim over the weekend, I decided to listen to the Wallflowers’ Breach. In the process, I rediscovered something that I already knew: it’s a damn fine album; probably their best. Sure, there are folks who prefer Bringing Down the Horse, what with “One Headlight” and “6th Avenue Heartache,” but song for song, nothing beats Breach.

Let’s get this out of the way first: “Sleepwalker” is probably their best song. Like, in their entire catalog. Yeah, they’ve got plenty of other great songs (the aforementioned “One Headlight” and “6th Avenue Heartache,” for instance), but nothing that really reaches the level of “Sleepwalker.” If we look at the continuum of Wallflowers albums — from their trying too hard to sound like Bob Dylan debut to their trying too hard to sound like the Clash Glad All OverBreach is the album where Jakob Dylan finally becomes comfortable in his own skin and with his status as the son of one of the most famous singer/songwriters in music history. Everything about the album just clicks in a way they hadn’t before (and really haven’t since). Rami Jaffee’s keyboards are perfect, guitarist Michael Ward plays some of the best work of his career, and Dylan’s lyrics are both reminiscent of his father’s work and wholly his own.

Song by song, this is the strongest writing in the band’s catalog. Opener “Letters from the Wasteland” sets the tone: the keyboards are foreboding, as are Dylan’s lyrics. He sings of abandonment and isolation, of “Slow danc[ing] to this romance on [his] own.” From there, the band transitions into “Hand Me Down,” which could’ve been vintage Bob Dylan.

Then comes “Sleepwalker.” The minor-key, up-tempo number feels foreboding, right up until the song enters the chorus and Dylan’s vocals are accentuated with poppy hand claps. Then everything takes a turn for the worst in the bridge: “I’m in your movie and everyone looks sad/But I can hear you, your voice, the laughtrack/But you never saw my best scene/The one where I sleep/Sleepwalk into your dreams.” It’s a killer bit of lyrical genius, the sort of thing most musicians would kill to have written. And it’s not even the best bit of that particular song. Dylan is firing on all cylinders here, and the band rises to meet him.

From there, the album tracks are just as solid. “I’ve Been Delivered” is full of clever wordplay and jaunty, keyboard-driven instrumentation. “Witness” is a slow, dirge-like song that sounds — again — like vintage Bob Dylan, with the addition of excellent horns. “Some Flowers Bloom Dead” is probably the best album track the Wallflowers have ever released, with pitch-perfect guitar, keyboards, and rhythm section combining with Dylan’s vocals to carry the song forward and make you want to immediately restart the song and hear it again.

Following “Some Flowers Bloom Dead” are a pair of slower, more stripped down songs: “Mourning Train” and “Up From Under.” Both are atypical of the album, featuring pared down instrumentation (especially “Up From Under,” which is almost entirely acoustic guitar and strings) and thoughtful, introspective lyrics. From there, things pick up a bit once more for “Murder 101,” a bouncy tune about learning how to kill people.

The final two songs share some thematic elements. “Birdcage” features some of the best guitar work of the album, and it’s a damn shame the song fades out just as Michael Ward really gets going. It’s a slow, thoughtful song, meditative and deliberate. And it’s followed by “Baby Bird,” a hidden track that features plinky toy piano and a plea for the baby bird to “come back home.” It’s a beautiful, poignant way to end the album, and a perfect final track.

The Wallflowers are one of my favorite bands. I wish they’d put out music more often (their last album came out in 2012. Two thousand twelve! That’s too damn long for more music from these guys). They’re put out decent albums since then (aside from the clunker that was Red Letter Days), but nothing has come close to reaching the heights of Breach.