Playlist #71

Happy Tuesday! We enjoyed our Labor Day weekend, and I came up with this new playlist for you! Aren’t you lucky?

  1. Cory Branan, “When In Rome, When In Memphis”: Became obsessed with this song over the weekend. Jason Isbell and Brian Fallon (of Gaslight Anthem) add guest vocals, and the repeated refrain of “When I go, I ghost” just gets me.
  2. The National, “Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver)”: I’m a sucker for any new song by the National.
  3. Bob Dylan, “What Was It You Wanted”: Unofficial ADHD anthem, for the line “What was it you wanted/Tell me again, I forgot,” if nothing else.
  4. Jakob Dylan, “Will It Grow”: Is it gauche to follow up one Dylan with another? I don’t care. I like the song.
  5. Jars of Clay, “Age Of Immature Mistakes”: Well, if this isn’t just the song that ought to soundtrack most of my life choices.
  6. Pure Prairie League, “Amie”: There exists a version of this song sung by me, my father, my Uncle Randy, and Cousin David, and if there is any God it will never see the light of day. It is bad.
  7. Paolo Nutini, “New Shoes”: One of my students, many years ago, was absolutely obsessed with this song. I saw the music video for it. Did you know they were still making music videos in 2007?
  8. Nouvelle Vague, “Ever Fallen In Love”: The world needs more bossa nova covers of DC punk songs.
  9. Juliana Finch, “This Year”: You know I love me a Mountain Goats cover.
  10. John Prine, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”: Prine recognized the idiocy of this stuff back in the 1970s. Dude knew what was up with performative patriotism.

Playlist #70: Death At A Funeral

We spent the weekend up in New York, attending a funeral for my wife’s grandfather who passed suddenly late last week. It got me thinking about things like when I die and, me being me, the music I’d like played at my own funeral. This list is by no means exhaustive; a true funerary playlist would have to be at least three times this long. But these are the top ten songs I’d like played when I die.

  1. Iron & Wine, “Hard Times Come Again No More”: Funerals are often somber affairs. They don’t have to be, but they often are. This song carries that tone well.
  2. The Beatles, “Let It Be”: Preferably one of the versions with a George Harrison guitar solo, because I like George Harrison guitar solos.
  3. Harry Nilsson, “Many Rivers To Cross”: Sure, Nick Hornby may prefer the Jimmy Cliff version, but this is the one for me.
  4. Van Morrison, “Caravan (Live)”: Again, much like Nick Hornby, I love the live version of this song from the Too Late To Stop Now double live album, even if it does have the unfortunate circumstances of including band introductions halfway through. But all those guys will probably be dead by the time I die, and I’m willing to share the spotlight a bit.
  5. Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Released”: I mean, it’s more about getting out of jail than getting out of this life, but I think it still works.
  6. Sean Watkins, “Let It Fall”: This song always felt like it belong over the closing credits to some heartfelt romantic drama. Or the end of one’s life.
  7. George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”: No one does the transitory nature of existence better than George Harrison.
  8. Gin Blossoms, “Pieces Of The Night”: Life could just be one long night at the bar, trying to find someone, anyone, to spend just a moment with, a moment that might mean something. Or maybe I’ve already had too much gin.
  9. The National, “Gospel”: “Hang your holiday rainbow lights in the garden.”
  10. Wilco, “What Light”: This song is very simple. Many Wilco songs are. But it’s also transcendent. And I think it’d be nice to have a choir of my friends sing it.

Playlist #56

Another school year is winding towards a close. Here in Northern Virginia, seniors are taking their final exams this week, and they graduate next week. Week after that, school’s over for everyone else. It’s been a…challenging year, to say the least. I’ll be glad to see the back of it.

Support me on Patreon! I’m about to release the song for May, and it’s a good one, if I do say so myself.

  1. Maria McKee, “Never Be You”: This song was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, and man, does it sound like it. Classic late ’70s/early ’80s Heartbreakers tone and style, through and through. I’d never heard this song before this weekend, but it’s good.
  2. The Black Keys, “Burn The Damn Thing Down”: Bluesy? Or Bloozy? It’s good, either way.
  3. Mike Doughty, “Fort Hood”: It takes some chutzpah to totally lift the coda from “Age of Aquarius” and use it as your chorus, but Mr. M. Doughty pulls it off.
  4. The National, “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”: They don’t usually do guitar solos, but they do one here, and it makes you wish they did them more often.
  5. Wilco, “The Thanks I Get”: Still the best Rod Stewart song Rod’s never sang.
  6. She & Him, “This Is Not A Test”: Fun and poppy. Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I still go back to this album. It’s just fun.
  7. Franz Ferdinand, “Do You Want To”: I’ll never understand how these guys aren’t bigger than they are. They do great, straight-ahead rock numbers with lots of arch humor and and nudging asides.
  8. Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere”: Even on later Boss albums, you can still usually find a good track or two. This one’s pretty solid. Avoid the remake of “Ghost of Tom Joad” he did with Tom Morello on 2013’s High Hopes. Those two are two great tastes that don’t taste great together.
  9. The Jayhawks, “I’d Run Away”: Love me some two-part harmony.
  10. Mark Knopfler, “Speedway at Nazareth”: I just love how this song builds. Not just in terms of the music – though the build to that coda is fantastic – but lyrically as well. Just a master class in how to write a great song.

Playlist #43: Presidents’ Day

Happy Presidents’ Day, ‘Murica! Here’s some executive branch love in aural form. And hey, don’t forget I’ve got a Patreon, where February’s song is about to drop!

  1. They Might Be Giants, “James K. Polk”: Educational, entertaining, and a banger. Yup, it’s a TMBG song, alright.
  2. The Presidents of the United States of America, “Lump”: I get exhausted just typing out the name of the band. Thank goodness the song title is so short.
  3. Hamilton, “History Has Its Eyes On You”: The only song from the show I can play on the guitar, and a great vocal delivery from Christopher Jackson.
  4. Mark Knopfler, “Don’t Crash The Ambulance”: A changing of the guard. A handing over of the keys to the kingdom. And a brief explanation of just how things work around here.
  5. The National, “Mr. November”: “I was carried in the arms of cheerleaders.”
  6. Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Jesus Christ For President”: We could do worse, honestly.
  7. Molly Lewis, “Our American Cousin”: A three-part look at Mr. Lincoln’s infamous trip to the theatre. Funny and dark and heartbreaking.
  8. XTC, “Here Comes President Kill Again”: The ’80s? Subtle? No.
  9. Drive-By Truckers, “The President’s Penis Is Missing”: A damn tragedy, to be sure.
  10. Over The Rhine, “If A Song Could Be President”: Again, we could do worse. And I have a whole murderer’s row of talent in mind for the Cabinet.

Playlist #38

Last week was a rough week, if I’m being honest. I was mostly over my case of covid, but still couldn’t return to work, and my wife…well, we had to take her to the hospital on Thursday because her O2 sats dropped dangerously low frighteningly quick. It’s only been in the past day or two that we’ve come to find out just how bad off she was. If we hadn’t taken her to the hospital when we did, she would not have survived the night.

So, she’s still at the hospital (in a covid isolation room where I cannot visit her), but thankfully on the mend. On Saturday, my old college advisor passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm, which…yeah, still haven’t processed it. All of that probably explains the slower tempo and more downbeat list of songs on this week’s playlist.

  1. The Horrible Crowes, “Sugar”: I always thought it was more than a little daring to open the album with this song, which is by far more downbeat and subtle than what follows.
  2. Iron & Wine, “Hard Times Come Again No More”: I don’t know how I found this particular recording. I think it’s from the TV show Copper, if anyone remembers that (I never actually saw it, but still somehow heard this version of the song).
  3. Jars of Clay, “Faith Enough”: A song filled with contradictions and paradoxes.
  4. Jason Isbell, “Cover Me Up”: Beautiful and heartfelt and far more subtle than most of the songs I prefer by him, but no less glorious for it.
  5. The Wallflowers, “Up From Under”: If Breach isn’t the best Wallflowers album, it’s definitely top two. And while this isn’t my usual go-to song from that record, it’s still simple (for a song with a string arrangement) and beautiful.
  6. Willie Nelson, “The Rainbow Connection”: A voice and a song that I’m surprised it took so long to put together, though I have to ask – aside from this one and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” just how many songs are there out there about rainbows?
  7. The Beach Boys, “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”: “Sometimes I feel very sad.” Sometimes Brian Wilson just cuts right to the damn chase.
  8. The National, “I Need My Girl”: I would like my wife home from the hospital now, please.
  9. The Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize??”: The happiest song about death that I know.
  10. Glen Phillips, “Train Wreck”: This one just sorta…feels right at the moment? That’s probably not good, is it?

Playlist #30: “Poor, Hard-Working Televangelist”

Happy Turkey Week, folks! Just two days of work for me this week, then it’s off to Ohio to visit some family and stuff myself with more food than is advisable because, hey, Thanksgiving. Before that, though, we have this week’s playlist, which features songs about religion!

  1. Jeremy Messersmith, “Jim Bakker”: The song that inspired this list all about the life of that “poor, hard-working televangelist.” If you don’t know, Jim Bakker was a snake-oil salesman of the worst sort and fleeced his lovely old congregants for every dime he could.
  2. Genesis, “Jesus He Knows Me”: Could also be about Jim Bakker, for all I know. I just remember how tongue-in-cheek this song sounded when I first heard it, and it still resonates with its strong anti-bullshit message even today.
  3. The Doobie Bros, “Jesus Is Just Alright”: I mean, he’s okay, I guess.
  4. Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit In the Sky”: How confident do you have to be in your soul’s eternal destination to write and record this song? Confident enough that Greenbaum, who is Jewish, said he had a friend in Jesus. That’s ballsy.
  5. George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord”: Admittedly, George was the most spiritual of the Beatles. While Paul was tossing out pop songs like most people breathe and John was pushing avant-garde art on anyone who came to close (and Ringo was…um…Ringo), George was the one who got into Transcendentalism and Eastern religions and the sitar and all that. “My Sweet Lord” isn’t the end result, it’s a symptom.
  6. The National, “Gospel”: What does this song actually have to do with anything related to the Gospel? Nothing, as far as I can tell. But it’s a beautiful song and lovely and I really like it, okay?
  7. Bob Dylan, “With God On Our Side”: Dylan’s a man who knows what’s up. This song was written in like ’64, which is damn-near peak Cold War (or near enough as it doesn’t matter), and he’s coming out so strongly anti-war that I’m surprised the FBI didn’t have a file on him a foot thick.
  8. Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Blood of the Lamb”: I love me some Mermaid Avenue, and this one – off the second collection – is a stompy, apocalyptic slice of what made the collaboration great.
  9. Aretha Franklin, “Son of a Preacher Man”: Damn, if this don’t just send tingles down your spine, I think you might be dead.
  10. Blind Faith, “Presence of the Lord”: More for Steve Winwood than Eric Clapton, really, ’cause Clapton’s finally shown his true (rather hateful) colors and eff that guy.

Playlist #29

Happy Monday! Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and with it my lack of desire to do anything other than lounge around in bed all day. It’s getting colder outside and the days are shorter, so let’s listen to some music, what do you say?

  1. The Cactus Blossoms, “Mississippi”: David Lynch put this one in the revival Twin Peaks series. I liked the song, didn’t care for the show.
  2. Calexico, “Guero Canelo”: As previously stated, I’m a sucker for basically anything these guys wanna do, music-wise.
  3. The Decemberists, “We All Go Down Together”: Watched The Suicide Squad over the weekend. Loved the movie, especially the soundtrack, which featured a Decemberists song at one point. Not this one (no, it was “Sucker’s Prayer”), but I love this song regardless.
  4. The Georgia Satellites, “Keep Your Hands To Yourself”: If there’s a better song about waiting until marriage, I haven’t heard it.
  5. Glen Phillips, “Revelator”: Did not realize until quite recently that this is, in fact, a Gillian Welch cover. Live and learn, I guess.
  6. Golden Smog, “Until You Came Along”: I love the harmonies in this song. Love them.
  7. The Grass Roots, “I’d Wait A Million Years”: Every single song I have ever heard by the Grass Roots has been a banger. This one is no different.
  8. Hockey, “Song Away”: I don’t remember where I first heard this song. Probably on a TV show or something. But I dig it.
  9. Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell, “This Must Be The Place”: I’ve said before that I dig it when Sam Beam (the guy from Iron & Wine) collaborates with pretty much anyone. I haven’t ever heard a bad song come from him collaborating, and if he and, say, Calexico wanted to spend the rest of forever working together again and again and again, I would not complain.
  10. The National, “Wake Up Your Saints”: “Wake up your saints, Jenny, I need them,” pleads Matt Berninger. Same, Matt. I could use a saint or two in my corner.

Playlist #12

It’s the Wife’s birthday this weekend, so this week’s playlist is all songs she likes!

  1. The Pixies, “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf Mix)”: Preferred version of this song. Dunno why. But it feels suitably surf-y and UK-y.
  2. Arcade Fire, “Intervention”: I think it’s the organ that does it in this one. I do know that this is probably off her (and my) favorite Arcade Fire album, Neon Bible.
  3. AC Newman, “Take On Me”: A beautiful, slowed down cover of the a-ha classic, complete with the really high “in a day or twoooooooooooo”s.
  4. Elliott Smith, “Baby Britain”: I think the Wife was the one who introduced me to Elliott Smith. This song is great, if for no other reason than the fact that he references both Revolver and the song “Crimson and Clover.”
  5. The Cure, “Just Like Heaven”: I did not care much for the ’80s when I was a wee lad. The music felt overproduced, all artifice and no substance. I’ve since learned that I was not even close to 100% correct on that second point (the jury is still out on the first point). This song is really good, either way.
  6. Annie Lennox, “Walking On Broken Glass”: For a song about the torture of a love affair gone bad, this song is very upbeat and fun.
  7. The Flaming Lips, “Free Radicals”: “You think you’re radical/But you’re not so radical/In fact, you’re fanatical/Fanatical (Fuck!)” may be the best chorus of the twenty-first century.
  8. The National, “Slow Show”: Okay, no, it’s “I wanna hurry home to you/Put on a slow, dumb show for you and crack you up.”
  9. REM, “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”: Why do I love songs where the first part of the title is in parentheses and why have I not written one yet? Oh, right, because it will never be anywhere near as good as this song.
  10. The Magnetic Fields, “Epitaph For My Heart”: I’m reasonably certain this is her favorite Magnetic Fields song. It’s the one she plays every time we listen to that band.

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.

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.