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 #59

Happy Tuesday, folks! It’s officially summer break time! That doesn’t mean I’ve slacked off over on Patreon, though. There’ll be a new song each month, just like usual. Anyway, here’s this week’s playlist.

  1. Old 97s, “Holy Cross”: It’s just such a bleak song with such a great rhythm.
  2. The Wallflowers, “Sleepwalker”: “Now, Cupid, don’t draw back your bow/Sam Cooke didn’t know what I know.”
  3. The Minus 5, “Wasted Bandage”: Favorite line is, “dear physician, won’t you heal yourself?”
  4. Golden Smog, “Until You Came Along”: Love the jangly twelve string in this one. It’s an alt-country Byrds song, essentially.
  5. Gin Blossoms, “Just South Of Nowhere”: Early Gin Blossoms stuff is just so damn good.
  6. Justin Townes Earle, “Flint City Shake it”: A song that calls GM out on the carpet for its treatment of the auto workers in Flint, Michigan. Gotta love it.
  7. Jesse Malin, “Addicted”: I will never not love Jesse Malin, and this song – about the problems of modern society and its addiction to smart phones and Instagram – hits a lot of good points.
  8. Josh Ritter, “Getting Ready To Get Down”: “If you wanna see a miracle/Watch me get down.”
  9. Glen Phillips, “Men Just Leave”: I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Glen Phillips’ first solo album, and this song – about how men often suck – still hits too real.
  10. Wilco, “You Are My Face”: I love the middle part of this song, where the band really cuts loose. It’s awesome.

Playlist #57: ’90s Dance Party!

Happy Monday Tuesday, everyone! I was off yesterday for Memorial Day here in the US, so here’s this week’s playlist. It’s sponsored by the fact that the Wife and I watched the new Kids in the Hall season, which was quite good (and featured far more old man dong than I anticipated). You can also support me on Patreon, where I just released May’s new song!

  1. Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, “Having An Average Weekend”: The theme song from Kids in the Hall! Still slaps.
  2. Primitive Radio Gods, “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand”: The song title is too long, there’s no more time to say anything else about this song! Other than it features a B.B. King sample.
  3. Shawn Mullins, “Lullaby”: This song was completely inescapable for like a month in 1998. Looking back, one has to wonder why. Was it the novelty of the spoken-word verses, or the Inside Baseball nature of the way it pokes at Hollywood? Or did we just not have high expectations for music in 1998? I think it’s maybe that one.
  4. Polaris, “Hey Sandy”: For a hot minute, I thought about making this playlist 100% great TV show theme songs from the ’90s, but it was really just this one and the one from KITH that I had for that list.
  5. Wilco, “A Shot In The Arm”: Wilco put out a new album last week! It’s pretty good. Here’s another pretty good Wilco song from over 20 years ago.
  6. Matchbox Twenty, “Mad Season”: Why do I enjoy listening to Matchbox Twenty so much? They’re so middle of the road, tailor made inoffensive that it’s hard not to enjoy their stuff, I guess.
  7. Barenaked Ladies, “It’s All Been Done”: Damn, that chorus gets really, really high at the end. I can never sing it right.
  8. Ben Folds Five, “Kate”: “She plays Wipeout on the drums/The squirrels and the birds come/Gather round and sing the guitar,” the song begins. And only gets better from there.
  9. Foo Fighters, “Everlong”: Have I included this song on a playlist already? Probably. It’s still so damn good.
  10. Gin Blossoms, “Hold Me Down”: Why have I come to love the Gin Blossoms so much? Is it this song specifically, or New Miserable Experience in general? I can’t say for certain.

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 #54

Good Monday Morning, folks! Follow me on Patreon. I’m super excited about May’s song there. Meanwhile, here’s this week’s playlist:

  1. Dream Wife, “Hey Heartbreaker”: The chugging guitar is great, and I love the overlapping vocals at the end.
  2. Drive-By Truckers, “Outfit”: “Don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit,” the narrator’s father admonishes him, and I can admit that I have done that on numerous occasions. Oh well.
  3. Wilco, “Say You Miss Me”: A heartbreaker of a song. Love it.
  4. Tom Waits, “Goin’ Out West”: “Well, I’m goin’ out west/Where the wind blows tall,” Tom Waits begins, and things only get weirder from there. Because of course they do, this is a Tom Waits song.
  5. Spoon, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”: A reverb-drenched shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.
  6. SaraoMusic, “Coming Home”: Sunny So-Cal indie pop at its finest.
  7. The Rolling Stones, “Factory Girl”: Always imagined this as the mid-70s version of that Shakespearean sonnet, “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun.”
  8. The Beatles, “Two Of Us”: If there’s a better song on Let It Be, make your case in the comments.
  9. Rhett Miller, “The El”: Who doesn’t love rattling along on the El in Chicago?
  10. Josh Ritter, “Hopeful”: Taking those first few tentative steps out into the wild after a relationship collapses can be terrifying, but you gotta stay hopeful.

Playlist #32

New week, new playlist!

  1. Pearl Jam, “Black”: I learned to play this song last week, only 20-some years too late for it to be relevant.
  2. Jonathan Edwards, “Sunshine (Go Away Today)”: Also learned this one last week. It’s fun and folky.
  3. Sting, “Shape Of My Heart”: I just really like the guitar figure in this one.
  4. The Decemberists, “Sucker’s Prayer”: I mentioned this one the other week, and then just put a different Decemberists song on the playlist instead. Here’s this one now.
  5. Big Red Machine, “Renegade (featuring Taylor Swift)”: Am I sucker for recent Taylor Swift? Yes. Is this song really gorgeous? Also yes.
  6. The Beatles, “For You Blue”: I dig George Harrison songs, and this one is just so much fun. John’s slide playing is gleeful and too much fun.
  7. The Avett Brothers, “Ain’t No Man”: I dig these guys, and this song is tub-thumpin’ good times.
  8. Wilco, “Everyone Hides”: I like how Wilco has eased into their dad rock years and are just hummin’ along, making laidback music and having a good time.
  9. Yael Naim, “New Soul”: Pretty sure this was a song featured in an iTunes commercial back in the day? I don’t remember. But it’s cute and lovely.
  10. The Horrible Crowes, “Mary Ann”: Sometimes, you just need Brian Fallon shouting someone’s name in the chorus.

Playlist #27

Good evening! As we roll into November, I have a new playlist full of tasty treats for you.

  1. Drive-By Truckers, “Daddy’s Cup”: When I saw these guys live about 15 years ago, they played this song, and damn if it didn’t blow me away back then. Who knew racing cars could make for compelling family drama?
  2. Yo La Tengo, “Deeper Into Movies”: I always feel like I should listen to these guys more. They’re very good at what they do, and what they do is quite nice.
  3. Wilco, “Handshake Drugs”: I enjoy playing this one on the guitar. It’s only got four chords and two verses, so even my tiny brain can remember it all.
  4. Rockwell, “Somebody’s Watching Me”: One of my freshman students was singing this song the other day. “How do you know that song?” I asked, as she did not strike me as the sort to listen to music that was more than six months old. “TikTok,” she replied, and a little piece of my curmudgeonly heart died.
  5. Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine”: When he repeats the “I know” over and over and over again, two thoughts run through my mind: (1) he forgot the next line and (2) how did he not pass out?
  6. Bruce Hornsby, “The Great Divide”: This guy writes good songs. I should probably listen to more than just this one and “That’s Just The Way It Is.”
  7. Bush, “Glycerine”: First of all, Bush is pretty terrible. Second, while this isn’t necessarily a good song, it’s at least entertainingly bad.
  8. Carole King, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”: Still one of the best, most underrated songwriters out there. Is there a bad song on Tapestry? No, no there is not.
  9. Charlie Sexton, “Burn”: Charlie Sexton, 80s heartthrob, Dylan guitarist, guy who puts out an album every decade or so. We’re way past due for a new one, Charlie. Let Bob spin his wheels behind a guitar for a few months, go record something for us.
  10. Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian At Best”: Australian musician who has a wonderful off-the-cuff, relaxed lyrical style that I enjoy listening to, even if her voice is an acquired taste (and one the Wife has yet to acquire).

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: Wilco’s Summerteeth

Wilco has become, over the past twenty or so years, one of my absolute favorite bands. I first heard about them in a weird way: Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) name dropped them in a song, which got me wondering about them. Long story short, I started with Summerteeth and never looked back.

Summerteeth was the third Wilco album. It came out originally in 1999, following the double album Being There. It’s a more refined album than Being There or their debut, A.M., with more organs, pianos, and odd little blips and quirks that presaged what was to come on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born.

The album kicks off with “Can’t Stand It,” which features keyboards, bells, and chugging guitars. “It’s all beginning/To feel like it’s ending,” Jeff Tweedy sings. At one point, he essentially howls, leading into a great instrumental break. From there, things slow down with “She’s a Jar,” a meditative, melodic tune which features a beautiful harmonica solo. “A Shot in the Arm” picks up the pace, starting off with a squall of static and noise and featuring heavily-strummed acoustic guitar.

Other standout tracks include “How to Fight Loneliness,” a song that encourages the listener to “Just smile all the time,” but the admonition feels rather hollow, as if the singer doesn’t quite believe that’s really the best way to fight loneliness. “When You Wake Up Feeling Old” is a lovely tune reminiscent of the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” in theme and general tone.

The title track is one of the best songs on the album. “It’s just a dream he keeps having/And it doesn’t seem to mean anything,” Tweedy sings over an upbeat tune, and the bird chirping and chorused “Oohs” and “Aahs” really make the song for me, as does the jangly, Byrdsy guitar figure played throughout.

The album closes with “In a Future Age,” a song that meditates on things ending and all falling to entropy. “Some trees with bend/And some will fall/But then again/So will us all.” The lyrics are simple, but very evocative and moving. Tweedy’s vocals are pitch-perfect for the song, and it rounds out the album in the best way possible.

Following “In a Future Age,” there are two songs that act as something of a coda: “Candyfloss,” a sugary ditty that features keyboards quite heavily, and an alternate version of “A Shot in the Arm.” Both are excellent and a wonderful way to actually finish out the album.

Ultimately, Summerteeth reflects Wilco growing in confidence and trying new things. The band shows growth and the album predicts the strange left turn their next couple of albums would take. I highly recommend it as a starting point for exploring Wilco’s discography. You could do far worse than this particular album.

The band has actually posted the entire album on Youtube. You can find it here.

Ten Days, Ten Albums, Some Explanation

Over on Facebook, a bunch of my friends have been doing this thing where they post a series of albums that influenced them significantly. Over the course of ten days, you post ten album covers, but offer no explanation as to how or why you chose the albums you did. I just finished doing it myself, but I enjoy explaining things and going into detail about why I’ve made the choices I made. So, for your reading enjoyment, I present my ten days, ten albums, with some explanation.

1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes!Damn The Torpedoes

The first Tom Petty album I owned, and the one that I go back to time and time again. The damn thing plays like a greatest hits collection, and there’s not a bad song on there. I still think it’s the most essential Tom Petty album there is, even moreso than Full Moon Fever or Wildflowers (and I’ve already gone on at length about my love for Wildflowers).

2018-04-25 14.22.05.jpg2. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

This album was my introduction to the Flaming Lips (I mean, aside from “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which everyone had heard on 90210). The first song, “Fight Test,” just floored me. The mixture of weird electronic squiggles and beeps with the acoustic guitar and Wayne Coyne’s strained, heartfelt vocals . . . I was hooked.

3. The Beatles, Rubber Soul2009-04-28 15.03.36.jpg

If you didn’t think I was going to include a Beatles album on a list like this, you haven’t been paying attention. The Beatles are the alpha and the omega, the source of everything I love about music, and Rubber Soul is their best album, if you ask me. It’s the perfect balance between their earlier, more raucous work and their later, more deliberate and formalist efforts. They made more interesting and experimental albums after this one, but they never made another album as cohesive and awesome as it.

2018-04-25 14.23.114. Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind

And here’s the requisite Dylan album. Time Out of Mind might seem like an odd choice–there are definitely better Dylan albums to choose from–but it’s the one that had the greatest impact on me. Discovering that he could still produce music that was this visceral and heartfelt, even as his voice broke completely and he seemed well-past his prime . . . it was inspiring. And the songs are pretty damn good, too.

5. Queen, A Night at the Opera2018-04-29 12.37.57

Queen blew my tiny little middle school mind like nothing else. The obvious epic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is there, but so is the biblical apocalyptica of “The Prophet’s Song” and the nasty character assassination of “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To…).” The sheer stylistic range on display is incredible, with heavy rockers, music hall goofs, and folky acoustic numbers with soaring harmonies. God, the layered harmonies. And don’t forget Brian May’s guitar work. The album kicks ass from start to finish.

2018-04-27 12.45.596. Pink Floyd, Meddle

This little-known Floyd album is one of my all-time favorites. The pulsing bass of opener “One of These Days,” the dreamy quality of “Fearless,” and the laid-back fun of “San Tropez” and “Seamus” make for a varied, entertaining album that doesn’t get weighed down in the concept album pretensions that most Floyd albums have to deal with. And the closer, the epic “Echoes,” with the sonar ping and murky, underwater feel…classic.

7. Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat2018-04-27 12.46.24

I had the privilege of seeing this album performed live in its entirety last year, and it was one of the best concert experiences of my life. The harmonies are the obvious highlight, but Jenny Lewis’s lyrics and songwriting are just as sharp and incisive as they were almost 15 years ago when this album came out.

2018-04-27 12.46.488. The National, Boxer

My introduction to the National was through a bootlegged live show right after this album came out. The show was made up almost entirely of songs from the new album, and I was intrigued so I sought Boxer out. Now, they’re one of my favorite bands, and this record is the reason why. Personal favorites include “Slow Show” and closer “Gospel,” though there’s really not a bad song on the album.

9. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska2018-04-27 12.47.09

Until the release of the likes of Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils + Dust, Nebraska was a weird outlier for the Boss. Solo acoustic, just his voice and guitar and a harmonica with a four-track recorder: that’s pretty much all there is to Nebraska. But it’s haunting, and glorious, and full of fire and brimstone and the sort of carefully-sketched character studies that Springsteen is known for. It’s the polar opposite of what Springsteen was known for: stripped down instead of piled high with overdubs, loose and slightly sloppy instead of precision-perfect.

2018-04-27 12.47.30

10. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

My introduction to Wilco came when I was listening to a Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) bootleg solo acoustic show. Folks in the audience were calling out what they wanted to hear next, and some dude kept asking him to play a Wilco song. And then he threw in a reference to them in one of his own songs, and I decided to check them out. YHF blew my mind, with its mix of acoustic instrumentation, weird blips and beeps and effects, and phenomenal songwriting. The fact that this album led me to so many other amazing bands–The Minus 5 and Uncle Tupelo being the two most prominent–and also led to me finding out about the Mermaid Avenue collections (Billy Bragg and Wilco play around with old Woody Guthrie lyrics? Hell yes!) is just gravy.