Favorite Songs of 2012

Turns out 2012 was a great year for music.  I really enjoyed many new artists and got re-acquainted with some old favorites.  I highly recommend all of these:
  • I’m Not Talking - A.C. Newman
  • Hold on - Alabama Shakes
  • When No One's Watching - Craig Finn
  • Mulholland Drive - The Gaslight Anthem
  • Eyes Wide Open - Gotye
  • Hypocritical Kiss - Jack White
  • I'm Shakin' - Jack White
  • Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy - Jack White
  • Hoping Machine - Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker & Yim Yames
  • The Way We Move - Langhorne Slim
  • Lakeside View Apartments Suite - The Mountain Goats
  • Madness - Muse
  • Simple Song - The Shins
  • It's Only Life - The Shins
  • Reboot the Mission - The Wallflowers feat. Mick Jones
  • Set The World On Fire - Watershed
  • Don't Be Honest - Watershed
  • On A Broken Radio - Watershed
  • State Hospital - Frightened Rabbit
  • Boxing Night - Frightened Rabbit

The Reviews Are Dead: Long Live the Recommendations

So, obviously, my New Years Resolution of posting one fully realized and well-considered album review per week for the entirety of 2011 has failed.  And yet, I don't feel like a failure.  What I realized was that I just wasn't enjoying not getting to know the albums that I really enjoyed.  That, and I just don't seem to have time to spend the 3-4 hours per week that I really think the music I love really deserves.

Which leads me to my second point...

To be honest with myself, I was never going to spend that much time really tearing apart something I don't enjoy.  Why? Because this is a labor of love.  If someone out there wants to pay me to deconstruct some of the truly awful stuff out there (and there is plenty of it), I'd be happy to accommodate.  

In the meantime, I'm going to move to doing "recommendations."  And they might not be quite as involved.  But trust me that my quest to find great music and share it with you remains undeterred.  

My next recommendation is coming forthwith... 

Noah & the Whale's "Last Night on Earth" (Recommendation 10/52)

I've never listened to Noah and the Whale before, but this album, Last Night On Earth, is instantly likable. In fact, it was this album that made me decide to change my weekly "review" into a "recommendation."  As I was listening to this album several weeks ago, it occured to me that I just wasn't ready to move on to the next review.  I wanted to savor this album: coming back to it after a couple of weeks hiatus makes me realize this is exactly the kind of thing that I've consistently enjoyed for years.

To set the stage, Noah and the Whale is an English "indie folk" band from London.  According to Wikipedia, the band's name is "is a combination of the title of one of the band's favourite films, The Squid and the Whale, and the director of the film's name, Noah Baumbach."  Sounds good enough for me, so that can stand without further comment.

At this point, I'd say that this is my favorite album of the year.  That's not to say it's the best or the most important, but it's the one that occupies the "sound of the first part of 2011" in my head right now.

Compared to some of the darker, more edgey music that I've listened to thus far this year, this is a simpler and more upbeat album.  It is a more forward looking and ultimately optimistic collection that doesn't extract the emotional toll that so much "indie" and "alternative" music takes on a listener.  Combined with some great hooks and catchy lyrics, it's a thoroughly satisfying album that I expect will stay in my permanent rotation for quite a while.  

The first single that the band released from this album is  L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. It's a pithy, catchy song with a great video:

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. (Live from RAK Studios) from charlie fink on Vimeo.

Tonight's the Kind of Night is probably my favorite song on the album.  Charlie Fink posted an interesting piece on the bands website where he compared an earlier version of the song:

Tonight by charliefink

with the final version:

TONIGHTS THE KIND OF NIGHT DEMO MSTRD by charliefink

Aside from being a great song, I really want to compliment Fink for having the guts to post an early version of the song for public consumption.  If there's one thing that I've learned from my short tenure in the music business, it's the tendency to not want to release anything before it's time.  It's hard to expose the underbelly of the process, but it's a great way for the audience to really learn more about the it; and I appreciate it immensely.

Here's the video for Give it All Back:

Give It All Back (Live from RAK Studios) from charlie fink on Vimeo.

In the interest of moving on to the next review, I'm going to leave this one here, but I encourage you to buy and listen to the whole album if you like what you've heard.  

Frightened Rabbit "Winter of Mixed Drinks" (Album Review 9/52)

Just over a year ago (February 22, 2010), I posted a video for a forthcoming album from the band Frightened Rabbit. Since the album "Winter of Mixed Drinks" was released last march, I have to say that it's moved me as much as any other musical work ever has.

As I was looking back at the albums I've reviewed since this little project started in January, it struck me that while I've really enjoyed them all, nothing has moved me the way that "Winter of Mixed Drinks" did last year. So, as I was trying to decide what to review this week, I decided to bring this album back to the top of the pile.

I'm not naturally attracted to sad and depressing emotions in music, so this is an odd choice as one of my favorite albums ever. But the raw emotion of Scott Hutchison's singing, the cohesive emotion, and the complete treatment of the thethroughout the album more than offset my natural sunniness.

In her preview of the album last year, Heather Armstrong makes a point of saying that the "Winter of Mixed Drinks" tells a story of a man healing, compared to the downright oppressive "Midnight Organ Fight" (the band's previous album.

One of the things I find so interesting about this album is that so often now, you find an album is a collection of singles. Of course, that model makes perfect sense in today's music market. If you have any interest in the market for music, you should have seen this post about the current state of music sales.

The fact that this album makes sense the way albums used to - as a coherent work of art - makes me love it even more. There is a progression in this album from pain to hopefulness. In the post from the I Am Fuel Your Are Friends blog above, Heather totally nailed it, based on what she heard from the one song available at the time, but it hold all the way through the album.In the first part of this album, the songs evoke the pain of a break-up; but by the end you start to see the glimmer of recovery.

A couple of weeks ago, we were having the perentheme nial discussion of the greatest lead-off songs on an album. I'd like to nominate "Things" in that category. In this song, Hutchison sorts through the physical detritus of his relationship, but acknowledges that its not the things he misses, but the person:

Never need these things
I'll never need them, oh
This is you and me, you are human heat
And the things aren't holy things
And the things bring me light, they bring me
Never need these things
I'll never need them, oh
Never going back, so we can drop the past
And we'll leave it on the floor and run for dear life for the door

The second song "Swim Until You Can't See Land" is equally powerful. I mean, at it's heart it's a song about a man considering suicide. Doesn't get more bleak than that. The emotional kick of this song blows me away every time I hear it. Heres the video:

The bleakness (and the emotional punch) continues with "The Loneliness and the Scream"

Finally, however the pain starts to resolve and you begin to see the light. My favorite song on the album is "Nothing Like You." Although it's a long way from resolution, you can see a glimmer of hope in a new relationship:

While it's the least interesting video of the bunch, it is remains my favorite songs after a million listens. The healing continues in the song "Not Miserable Now"

Though the corners are lit
The dark can return with the flick of a switch
It hasn't turned on me yet, yet

(I am)
Not miserable now
No one knows
No one knows
I'm not miserable


By the time we get to the last several songs on the album, you can feel the pain beginning to recede and the songs begin to look forward. We're still a long way from hopefullness, but signs of life return. The song "Living in Color" promises a future:

Though i dreamt with a rapid eye
By day i hope to rapidly die
And have my organs laid on ice
Gave to somebody thatll treat them right
And as the night started swallowing
You put the blood to my blue lips
Forced the life through still veins
Filled my heart with red again

Bottom line: I hope that you will buy and listen to this whole album. It's an under appreciated classic. Plus - let's just admit it - to an American, almost anything sung in a Scottish accent sounds cool.

Beady Eyes "Different Gear, Still Speeding" (Album Review 8 of 52)

First and foremost, Beady Eye's debut album "Different Gear, Still Speeding" is an homage and an evolution of the sounds of English rock and roll that have explicitly influenced frontman Liam Gallagher.  While I was surprised to hear it as explicitly as it comes across on this album, I think it really works. As weird as it sounds to say this in 2011, if you love the Beatles, you have to give this album a listen.

Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher and the rest of the most recent iteration of Oasis announced in 2009 that they were separating from Noel Gallagher. After a number of tumultuous years between the brothers (Noel and Liam), it surprised few that this would happen eventually.

Also not surprising is the evolution of the sound of Liam Gallagher's music. Although Liam Gallagher has consistently acknowledged the influence of the Beatles in his music, it has never been more readily apparent than it is in this album. Pick any track on this album and the influence is unmistakable. Personally, I could hear it in Oasis' albums from the 90's. But it's right up front here, and they do nothing to allay that perception in the look, sound and feel of the band's image.

For example, take a look at this screenshot from the front page of their website. I know that it comes straight from a Beatles or Stones photo, but I just can't place it. If it doesn't, then they've accomplished the feat of creating memories that don't exist. Your help in ID'ing this memory for me would be much appreciated.

On to the music: There are any number of great tracks on this album, but let's start with the first single, "The Roller."

I'll take you somewhere you never knew you'd been
I'll give you something you never knew you'd feel
The only thing is everything is really tonight, tonight, tonight
Just call me the roller
I'll squeeze and unfold ya
Call me the roller
I just go to show ya

Just look at Liam Gallagher in this video and tell me he's not channelling John Lennon.

It's a cool song and a great video.

One last note about the Beatles sound on this album. Gallagher embraces the comparison and shows that he's confident in his ability to stand up to it in a song unapologetically titled "Beatles and Stones". How many bands do you think could get away with a lyric like this:

I’m gonna stand the test of time
Like Beatles and Stones
I’m on my way home,
just get back to what’s mine
And when I get home, well I’ll be alright
What’s that you say?
Get out the way!

Beyond the "English sound", there are some exceptionally strong rockers on this album. The song "Four Letter Word" has a thoroughly modern musical drive to it. Interestingly enough though, the look of the video is all The Who with the Mod look.

So, I've gone on and on about comparisons to the Beatles. Is there room for a "New" Beatles in the rock world. My answer is yes. Thus sound and the feel of this music sounds fresh. If anything, it rekindles my appreciation of the great legacy that Beady Eye has inherited and moves forward on this album. Thanks, Beady Eye. Now I think I'm going to go listen to a little John Lennon before I go to sleep.

The Civil Wars' "Barton Holow" (Album Review 7/52)

When I was soliciting suggestions for interesting and different music to review a couple weeks ago, a friend recommended The Civil Wars (thanks Kirk - @dkirkmcdonald). Barton HollowI guess that I've seen them mentioned on some of my regular music blogs a couple times, but hadn't really given them a second thought. Also, I've never gotten into Grey's Anatomy, where the song Poison & Wine was featured (more on that later).

Anyway, I decided to give it a non-casual listen - and I'm glad I did, not only because I really like his album, but also because my wife actually likes it too (which isn't the case with everything I play for the whole family). So, thanks for that, Civil Wars.

The Civil Wars are a duo based in Nashville consisting of John Paul White (various guitars and vocals) and Joy William (various keys and vocals). Here's their website.

One other bit of business before I move on to the music: the first time I listened to it, I was already formulating comparisons in my head to The Swell Season. The comparison is obvious on the most elemental level - a man and woman playing acoustic songs about relationships. But the more I listened, the bigger the differences become. The Civil Wars draw heavily from a country/bluegrass/Southern vibe that differentiates them from the Swell Season. In fact, the more I listen, the less apt the comparison seems... In a good way.. For both groups... Comparisons may help us to simplify and compartmentalize what we hear, but I caution myself, and you, not to let simplification limit our horizons.

The Southern influence is most pronounced in songs like the title track Barton Hollow. This song owes a more to great blues traditions than anything else. Joy White's beautiful harmonies on this song belie the desperation in the lyrics. This is my favorite song on the album.

So, I ask you does this lyric look like it comes from a an indie music duo or Robert Johnson?
Ain't going back to Barton Hollow
Devil gonna follow me e'er I go
Won't do me no good washing in the river
Can't no preacher man save my soul

Here's the official video:

For comparison and as a "live performance check", here's a 1 guitar, 2 voice acoustic performance of the song:

One of the great things about YouTube is that you can now see how artists actually sound in live performance. It's one of my favorite ways to gauge artists. As much as I appreciate a great studio recording, if an artist can't pull off a version that's as good or better live, I always think a little less of them. The Civil Wars performance here is every bit as compelling as a studio recording, to my ear.

The group's breakthrough was when their song Poison & Wine" was picked up by Grey's Anatomy and played in it's entirety over a montage of two characters' relationship during season 6 of the show. Here's the video to Poison & Wine

Here's another cool thing. Early in their careers, (their second show, actually) they played at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, GA. The club's sound guy recorded the show and gave them a copy. They released the complete recording and you can download it for free here. That's cool; props to the band for making that available. It's a great show.

That's all for this week, music lovers. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you want to hear about next.

Album Review: The Phantods "Creature" (6 of 52) AND a Rant About Music

PhantodsCreature The Phantods are a current hometown favorite on the independent alternative scene here in Columbus. They are in rotation at CD-101 (at 102.5) and play regularly throughout the area. But the question comes up in many people's mind when they hear a local act get airplay on their favorite station is "Do they stand up to the national acts I hear on the radio everyday?"

In this case, theanswer is an emphatic "yes." In short, the music is exciting, the lyrics make you think and their live performances live up to the promise of the music. Take a close listen to this whole album and you will find a variety of styles  ranging from driving energetic rock of the title track "Creature" to the rockabilly-influenced "Just Like You", to the gypsy-rock "Thieves".

Taken as a whole, it works beautifully and I recommend highly. The opening track on the album is the title track "Creature". It announces a self-confident thread that I found runs through the album. Not a cocky arrogance, but a mature confidence borne of time and experience.

I've been waiting for the right time
But I've no heart to ask them
Why they do all the things they do
And if it's any consolation
I'm my own creation
And the same should apply to you.

In recent reviews, I've talked about a sense of place (Kings of Leon) and sense of time (Iron & Wine). In this album, the theme that strikes me is a sense of self. The lyric "I'm my own creation, And the same should apply to you" perfectly illustrates the point. This is a song of strength and self-confidence. It's the kind of song I want my kids to take to heart and God knows, I've played it for them enough times this week thinking about what this album says to me. Here's the video:

The song "Blood of Kings" is a rock and roll gem. It's got a great hook that drives through the song with urgency.

We're both so lost and broken
Guided by words unspoken
We may be better off alone
It is the blood of kings
That moves within my veins
Take the name away from me
But their mark will still remain
You ask me am I to be
Sensitive to what you sing
The light inside has made me this way

  Another songs that struck me on this album is "Under the Moon"

I've got my reasons to feel like I do
You can't take them from me
Cause it's what I've been through

Again, the self-awareness and acknowledgement the past in this song is gut-wrenching, but it doesn't ask for pity. It boldly announces without apology a point of view and insists that we acknowledge.

The finale of the album is "Our Last Goodbye". It's a song that reflects on the past, but also takes a confident stand in the present:

We're still here after it all
Through the night I can still hear you call
It's your voice that haunts me inside
It's your voice that keeps me alive
I've got my reasons to feel like I do
You can't take them from me because it's what I've been through

Once again, it's getting late on Sunday night and rather than fully develop a couple of other thoughts I have on this album, I'm going to pull the old bulletize trick and lay them out for you. I'd welcome your thoughts and helping me hash out these ideas:

  • Sometimes, I'm listening to this and I hear a cross between Joan Jett and James McMurtry.
  • I like the production values of the whole album. Consistently good musicianship throughout. Great guitar and drum abounds.
  • Gretchen King has a powerful voice that rings true and stands up to the big sound that accompanies her.

A Rant About Supporting Local Music

In the digital world, it's easy to dismiss your hometown team as good, but not as good as the "national acts." But you're missing out if you don't appreciate your own homegrown talent. Columbus is thick with great musical talent. Great musical talent is all around us, and we have a responsibility and a self-interest in supporting a vibrant homegrown music scene.

Let me just give you a vignette about the type of connection you can have with a local artist. I ordered the Phantods' new album "Creature" shortly after release. Since I still like to have a piece of plastic in my hand and I appreciate album art, I try to buy albums rather than digital downloads (although I do buy a lot of music on digital download). Unfortunately, when I go the CD a couple days later, it was broken into pieces by the USPS. I sent a note to the Phantods via their website, and within a matter of hours, I got not one, but TWO replies from members of the band apologizing for the inconvenience and promising a replacement, which I promptly received.

I don't expect that one day when I meet this band that they'll remember this, but I will. It's an object lesson in actual connection with fans that every artist should take to heart. It makes a difference in the way that fans think about you. The Phantods earned my admiration not only for their music but with their responsiveness and willingness to interact. I love U2, but I don't expect that if I received a broken CD from them that I would get a reply from Bono.

Anyway, enough about this. I think you get my point: a lot of great music comes not from the remains of the mainstream music industry but from our own backyard. Support local artists and you can enjoy a relationship with them that you simply will never get from the majors.

Local Natives' "Gorilla Manor" - Album Review (6 of 52)

"Gorilla Manor" is a nuanced,layered, atmospheric work. Gorilla Manor Pretty much, you could say that it was written for someone with precisely my taste in music. My bottom line on this album is that it is very good but just a tad bit short of outstanding. In the end though, I chose to review this because I found myself thinking about it late in the day after having listened to it while working early on Thursday, i.e. the music stayed with me. And that's the kind of visceral, subconscious reaction to music that makes me love it.

Once again this week, I was sifting through suggestions and new releases, looking for something to inspire me... something I just HAD to write about. I posted a Facebook and Twitter status soliciting suggestions and got a lot of good ones. Ohio musician, and friend of friends, Lizard McGee of the band Earwig (Review of "Gibson Under Mountain" forthcoming) reminded me of this album, which I bought several months ago, but hadn't really paid enough attention to.

To start off with, a little background on the Local Natives. I love these guys' story: basically, they formed as a band in high school, graduated and moved into a house together in an LA suburb. This album is self-funded, and they kicked off their career by heading off to on a European tour. Kudos for chutzpah and self confidence. The other thing I love about their bio (at least as told on Wikipedia, which I assume is their own story) is that EVERYTHING is 100% collaborative. I like the vibe and I like the result.

Anyway, on to the songs: the first song on is "Wide Eyes" Here's the video:

Interesting video to say the least. I like the message, obviously a song about confronting inner demons. I love the texture and feel of this music: that feel runs throughout the album and makes it very enjoyable to my ears. But could they have gotten a less cheesey-looking shark? Nevertheless, if that's a sound that works for you, read on.

The second song is "Airplanes". Despite the silly intro, this is my favorite song on the album. Here'sYouTube:

It's a great song because it's so simple. Compared to the lyrics to the last couple albums I've reviewed, the lyrics to this song are like a Tweet. But they're powerfully delivered. At the end:

It sounds like
We would have had a great deal to say too each other
I bet when I leave my body for the sky
The wait will be worth it.

It's now getting late, and I need to start closing this up.  However, I do want to add that this album maintains a consistent quality throughout.  There are a couple of weaker (to my ear) songs, but overall, I like most everything they offer up on this album.  In particular, I'd direct your attention to "Shape Shifter,"  "Warning Sign,"  and "Stranger Thread."

I guess that one of the hesitations that I have about a full-on 100% endorsement of this album is that I really do like this sound. But there is already someone else (as it were) who's captured my ear. I think this sounds like, but not quite as good as The Whiles "Colors of the Year", which is hanging in there as one of my favorite albums of all time. But I shouldn't hold that against the Local Natives, I just encourage you to get both...

And with that, I'm going to start doing one of the things I really want to do on this blog, which is introduce my friends in Columbus and everywhere else to some of the great music coming out of Columbus, Ohio.  Next week, I'll tell you why I love "Creature" by the Phantods.

 

Iron & Wine "Kiss Each Other Clean" - Album Review (5 of 52)

The most important thing I have to say about this album is that it rewards careful, active listening. Even after a week of listening to this album I'm not exactly sure what it's all about, but the curiousity keeps bringing me back to it.  To me, that's a great characteristic for an album: It's not easily deciphered, but it's interesting enough that I want to figure it out.

My process for this reviewing experiment has been to listen to an album several times over the course of a week.  (Maybe one of these days, I'll get some broader pre-release access to big acts, but for now we'll have to settle for bringing you things on release or on NPR Music (where a surprising number of really cool artists are previewing releases now, by the way))  Anyway, this was a tough week because I thought I was going to be reviewing "Kaputt" by Destroyer.  While I liked it, it wasn't inspiring me.  So I decided to go with this album based on a recommendation by my solar energy business parter Eric.  Bottom line, it was a great call.  I love this whole album and recommend it for anyone who likes the whole Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz thing - or anyone like them.

I'll start with "Tree By the River", since that seems to be the single on which everyone is focusing.  I didn't even realize how much I liked it until I found myself humming one morning as I was waking up.  The word that keeps coming to mind when I listen to this is wistful.  It transports me to a time, a place and a feeling. The lyrics to this song speak to the growing-up me:

I recall the sun in our faces
Stuck and leaning on graces
And being strangers to change

Radio and the bones we found frozen
And all the thorns and the roses
Beneath your window pane

Now I'm asleep in a car
I mean the world to a potty-mouth girl
A pretty pair of blue-eyed birds

"Time isn't kind or unkind," you liked to say
But I wonder to who
And what it is you're saying today

 

IRON & WINE - Tree by the river by MarMat7681

 

Several other songs on this album strike me as being particularly worthy of your time to listen to and enjoy.

"Monkeys Uptown" is a great example of my point earlier that this album requires active listening.  In particular, the first time I listended to it as I was doing some other work, I though it was a mess: too many things happending and unnecessary sound effects. But once the tune became familiar, I started to appreciate the complex instrumentation and different layers of the song.  I really don't know whether I'll choose this song in two, five or twenty years to play by itself, but it totally works for me now.

The second song on this album, "Me and Lazarus," kept me thinking all week. I wanted to find a connection to the song "Po' Lazarus" that was recorded by Alan Lomax and included on the great soundtrack to "O Brother Where Art Thou," but I just couldn't find it.  I hear musical and sound effect references to it in this song, but thematically I'm not seeing it.  Maybe someone can help me out with that.

In the end, I have more questions about what this ablum means than I have answers after listening it.  That makes me like it.  I find myself actively puzziling over it even after 10 or 12 listens.  Maybe there is no big metaphysical meaning here and Sam Beam has snowed me into thinking there is with complex, beautiful instrumentation and opaque lyrics.  But I don't think that's right.  I know that I'm intellectually intrigued by these songs and I expect I will be for some time to come.  And that's enough for me to recommend this to my friends...

By the way, here's a link to Iron & Wine's website.

John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett: Show Notes and Album Reviews (4 of 52)

So, we just got back from seeing John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett playing together on acoustic guitars at the Midland Theater in Newark, Ohio.  

I'll try to keep the superlatives to a minimum here because I'm still on a concert high from watching two giants perform in close quarters for over two hours.  Let's start with the details.

First of all, if you are in one of these places, you should seriously consider doing whatever it takes to get to one of these shows.   

January 31 - Ann Arbor, MI - Michigan Theater
February 02 - Milwaukee, WI - Pabst Theater
February 03 - Kalamazoo, MI - State Theatre
February 04 - Orillia, ON - Casino Rama
February 05 - Fort Wayne, IN - Embassy Theater
February 07 - Minneapolis, MN - State Theatre
February 09 - Midland, MI - Midland Center for the Arts
February 10 - Bloomington, IL - Bloomington Center for Arts
February 11 - Joliet, IL - Rialto Square Theatre
February 12 - Indianapolis, IN - Murat Theater
February 13 - Louisville, KY - Whitney Hall

 

The format of these show is dead simple and stripped of any pretense or cover for the artists.  Basically, there are two chairs on the stage.  Lovett and Hiatt make an unceremonious entrance, sit down and start playing songs on their acoustic guitars.  They take turns playing songs and in between they talk about whatever is on their mind.  It could not be more simple.  At the same time, it's obviously a huge exposure artistically.  There's not a backing band or vocals to cover your wavering voice or missed note on the guitar.  The fans are sitting quietly in their seats hanging on every note.  

What I'm saying is that while it is a simple format, it also lays bare the artists true talent.... In this case, what it lays bare are two very different but exceptional talents.  My friends Dan and Stephanie and my wife Cathy were talking about the differences on the way home.   Lyle Lovett has a very precise approach to his music.  He was relaxed and genial in his banter with Hiatt and the audience, but once his songs started he was focused.  While I have no way of backing this up, I'm guessing the songs sound pretty much the same from night to night.  That sound features pure and strong vocals accompanied by and extremely precise guitar.  He hit every note vocally and on the guitar with perfect tone.  He's an absolute craftsman and the intensity of his emotion is palpable.

Complimenting Lovett's style, John Hiatt plays every song with a certain wide-open flair.  One gets the impression that even if here were to play one of his songs twice in a row, it could sound completely different. He wears his heart on his sleeve in his musical interpretation.  Toward the end of the set, Hiatt played "Have a Little Faith in Me;" this is one of my top 100 songs of all time, but the emotional and cerebral interpretation that Hiatt gave it tonight shed new light on an already nearly perfect song for me.

Enough about the show, let me tell you a little bit about their recent releases before I hit the sack.  Lovett's most recent album is "Natural Force" (get it here on Amazon MP3).  This is an interesting album in that it mixes some beautiful music with some songs that I would characterize as silly.  The opening song on the album is the title track "Natural Forces."  It's a song about truckers, Native Americans, soldiers and cowboys.  Basically, it's about people riding the currents of their lives and history, hoping for the best - not passively, but with a sense that there are larger forces that we deal with every day and through history.

Now as I sit here safe at home
With a cold Coors Lite an' the TV on
All the sacrifice and the death and war
Lord I pray that I'm worth fighting for

I'm sitting here with my Coors Light and thinking about those things too, Lyle.  Thanks for this song.

Now that I'm thinking about it, the next two songs on the album aren't really silly, but they are definately more light hearted and fun.  "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel" and "Keep It in Your Pantry" lighten up the tone for the rest of the album which has some great other songs like "Empty Blue Shoes" and "Whooping Crane" that are more in the country tradition that Lovett nails.

John Hiatt's newest album (from last March) is "Open Road." Like his other albums, it's a lyrical and songwriting clinic for anyone interested in that art.  The chorus of the title track is a melancholy lyric about wandering:

The open road where the hopeless come
To see if hope still runs
One by one they bring their broke down loads
And leave 'em where the hobo dreams are stowed 

This is a great album.  I highly recommend it.

That's all for this week, folks.  Not sure what's on tap for next week, but stay tuned.  Thanks for reading.

 

Album Review (3 of 52): The Decemberists - "The King Is Dead"

Synopsis: An exceptionally strong album from start to finish by The Decemberists.This is the kind of album that I like from the beginning but reveals more and more depth with repeated listening. Exceptional contributions from some very talented artists, provocative lyrics and layered melodies make it easily approachable but also give it great staying power.

A Sense of Time

The are several themes running through this album that bear examination, but because of the juxtaposition in my own listening experience with the Kings of Leon's "Come Around Sundown" two weeks ago, I want to explore the use of time in this album. I'm not arguing that this is what the band (and Colin Meloy in particular) had in mind when they made the album. My view on that is that the only definative conclusions that you can draw from a piece of music are the conclusions that the artists draw for themselves. That said, as a listener, I'm also free to observe themes and draw my own conclusions from the artists' work.

If the album that I reviewed two weeks ago was about a sense of place, then this album by the Decemberists is about a sense of time. Not necessarily a time in particular, but the flow of time. In fact, the songs here expand in several different dimensions both within a year and across a lifetime.

As if to make my point, the album starts off with this lyric in the great song "Don't Carry It All":

Here we come to a turning of the season
Witness to the arc towards the sun
A neighbor's blessed burden within reason
Becomes a burden borne of all and one

The first thing you hear as you come into this album is a heartfelt exhortion to "share the burden" with our neighbors and it starts with a "turn of the season." It's a hopeful and melodic song; and I love it.

Here's a You Tube video of the song. I couldn't find video for the song, so this version of the song played over the song track will hopefully encourage you to buy the album (just like I did).

Also, it's worth pointing out as we are getting into this album, that it benefits greatly from some brilliant collaboration from Gillian Welch (folk heroine whom I first learned of late in "O Brother, Where Art Thou"), her longtime musical partner Dave Rawlings, and Peter Buck (R.E.M.). Welch's nearly perfect voice provides a modest, but spot-on harmony to Meloy's voice on half the songs here. Buck's influence is felt on several songs, especially the second song, "Calamity Song."

The time theme continues in "Calamity Song" conjures up a vision of the end of times. Specifically, it's about a dream of "you and mea and the war of the end-times." More of a question about where we'll all be at the end of time. It's an exhortation to look ahead and think about where we'll be.

Keeping with the Time theme, there is a neat simple symetry about having "January Hymn" and "June Hymn" just minutes from each other on the album. And they both do a masterful job of evoking a feeling for the season without resorting directly trying to describe them. Both songs evoke the seasons and the feelings that Meloy (and we) associate with them. Melancholy memories are dredged up in "January Hymn." Likewise, "June Hymn" comes at us with this:

Here's a hymn to welcome in the day
Heralding a summer's early sway
And all the bulbs all coming in
To begin
The thrushes bleating battle with the wrens
Disrupts my reverie again

It's all looking forward in this song. And he drags us way forward, wondering whether we'll remember this time as fondly in the future as we do now.

So, enough with the time theme, there are more references to time that I'd could bring up, but I'll leave it to you to ponder and enjoy.

There are a couple of other songs I'd like to point out though. "Down by the Water" is one of my favorite songs on this album. Again, the influence of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck is manifest.

Finally, I want to point out the song "This Is Why We Fight." I've listened to this song maybe 20 times this week and I'm not sure whether I get it or not, but I think it's a rousing anthem in the guise of an indie melody. To me, these lyrics are an eyes-open, war-is-hell, reflection on the pain and/but necessity of fighting for what we have.

And when we die
We will die
With our arms unbound
This is why
This is why we fight

I'll look forward to anyone telling me why I've misinterpreted this.

In the end, this is a great album. I expect that this will be on my regluar playlist for years to come.

Album Review (2 of 52): Cake - "Showroom of Compassion"

Going to be a short review this time because I'm writing it on my iPad while sitting on a plane.

My purpose in doing these review is threefold:

  1. to share great music with as many people as possible
  2. to get some writing done in a disciplined way
  3. to force myself to explore musically

On Tuesday, Cake released a new album "Showroom of Compassion." This review, falls squarely into the "force myself to explore" category of why I'm reviewing it. Although I've always enjoyed Cake's singles, I don't think I've ever listened to one of their complete albums before. In fact, before I was re-introduced to "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" in the middle of last year, they were completely off my radar. ("Short Skirt/Long Jacket" by the way is a great song that as far as I can tell was written about my wife.)

One thing you can say about this album is that it is consistently Cake. There are a lot of groups out there that you can tell who it is without knowing the song. This is not necessarily a bad thing. U2, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan and many other greats have an easily identifiable sound. However, at some point, the line between "they have an easily identifiable sound" and "all their songs sound the same" starts to blur. I don't think this album crosses the line, but the fact that I even considered it tells you something.

The first single off this album is "Sick of You". It seems like it was released several months ago (can't look it up on the plane) and at this point it almost feels like an oldie to me. I think that because of the familiarity of the sound, I liked it pretty much from the first time I heard it on the radio. It's sort of an At the same time, there's plenty of fun and thought-provoking stuff on this album. It's not as quirky as They Might Be Giants, but there are some interesting song choices on here.

A great example of the quirky nature of their album construction is For example, the opening song "Federal Funding" is an odd choice to kick off an album. It's a song about federal grants. Now as someone who's spent the last 6 months actually involved in writing state and federal grants, I can personally testify to the fact that it's a torturous process. The music and repetition in the song lead to a conclusion that it's a repetitive and tedious process... OK, I'll give you that but I'm not sure what it all means or why I'd lead off an album with it.

The second song "Long Time" is a great song. Actually, it's my favorite song on the album. But it's not exactly cheery:

It's been a long time
Since I've seen your smiling face
It's been a long time
Since I've seen a sunny day

"Sick of You" is the song that's currently getting all the attention. Here's the video:

It's another fairly depressing song about ennui. It would say "teenage ennui", but these guys are a little old for the teenage part (pot calling the kettle black warning). I actually feel sorry for people who get bored and sick of things so easily, but I can still dredge up some of those old feelings every once in a while to appreciate songs like this. But doing so always makes me feel lucky to be albe to back up from it and appreciate the simple great things about life.

So where does this all come from. I thought this video by John McCrea and the rest of the band was pretty interesting.

Finally, another thing to love about this band is that they have recently converted their studio to run on solar power. Full disclosure, my day job is developing solar power with Tipping Point Renewable Energy. So I think this is a great idea.

Album Review (1 of 52): Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown

When I promised to review one album a week for 2011, I started getting suggestions right away.  The first was from my friend Andy K., who suggested the Kings of Leon album.  While I've sort of envisioned this exercise as a way to introduce people to really obscure stuff, I like this suggestion.  

Clearly, Kings of Leon doesn't qualify as obscure.  In fact, they're probably on of the biggest rock bands in the world now.  Recently, I was talking with CD-101 DJ Brian Phillips and the Lonely Bones keys/guitars/vocals Rick Kinsinger about the demise of good old rock and roll in the face of competition from pop, hip-hop, country and so many other genre's of music.  Don't believe me, check out the Billboard Hot 100.  For this week, the highest ranking rock song comes in at #24. The amazing thing is that while sales for music in general and rock in particular have been falling steadily, the quality of rock music is still quite high.  

The Kings of Leon Come Around Sundown is a case in point.  It was released in North America on October 19 and did make it to #2 on the Billboard 200 (albums list) and #1 on the "Rock Albums" and "Alternative Albums" charts.  However, the great single from the this album, Radioactive, peaked out at #37 on the Hot 100 (list of top songs).  By the way, this illustrates another point that rock fans still buy albums disproportionately to the rest of the industry.  

Anyway, enough of the diatribe about the state of rock music and on to this album.  Bottom line is that it's an excellent album.  The only negative things that I've read to which I ascribe any validity are that it's maybe not as good as some of their truly exceptional earlier works like Youth and Young Manhood and my favorite Only by the Night. To point out the changes in the Kings of Leon's style is more of an observation to me than a criticism.  I think evolution is healthy and I salute them for the highly refined, beautifully produced music that their making now.

Of the 16 songs on Come Around Sundown, three make me sit up and pay attention when I hear them.  The biggest single is a song called Radioactive.  Here's the video:

 

I love the sense of place and belonging that this song engenders.  Here are the first couple lines:

When the role is called up yonder
I hope you see me there
It's in the water
It's where you came from

This is sort of sentimental, but it works for me.

Back Down South is another song with a great sense of place.  For those who don't know, the Kings of Leon is composed of three brothers and their cousin.  They are from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.  This song is about going home.  I couldn't find an official video for it, but here is a performance they did of it on BBC:

This other thing this video does for me is to affirm one of my key tests for a band which is do they sound as good (or better) live than they do on their studio produced albums.  This is a great example of a band that wins me over with a live performance.

The last song I'll point out is Mary.  It's a fairly standard song about a guy standing on a street corner hitting on a girl, but I love the tone and promise that the songs offers.

That's all for now.  Let me know if you have suggestions for next week's post.

Favorite Songs of 2010

To say that 2010 was a good year in musc is a huge understatement.  It's been one of the best years that I can remember.  Here's my list of my favorite songs from 2010.  Comments welcome:

 

Now Available: "Still Love Christmas" by Colin Gawel and the Lonely Bones

Columbus indie stalwart Colin Gawel and his crack backing band, the Lonely Bones, have released an instant holiday classic with their new EP-CD "Still Love Christmas" which is available on Colin's website, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, Rhapsody and select record stores.  

Pick up a copy for yourself and buy some extras to give to family and friends.  Happy Holidays!

Finally, the Colin and the boys will be filming a video for the single at the Rumba Cafe this Friday, December 3.  Bring your Santa hats and come be part of the fun.

Columbus Local Music Scene: A Hard Look by Quarantine

Just read this well done piece at Quarantine about the Columbus music scene called "Why the Scene Sucks."  He didn't pull any punches.  While I might not agree with his characterization of everthing (I really like the recent Earwig album), it makes some points that need to be made, like:

I don't own a vehicle and use COTA quite frequently; I know first hand how limited it is.  Add COTA's crappy coverage with how spread out Columbus is with sprawl, and that Central Ohio is the DUI capital of the world, and you don't have a city conducive to lots of people going out to bars at night and enjoying their local artists.

It's worth a read and it's all here.

Video of the Week: "We Speak No Americano" featuring Cleary & Harding

Every once in a while, we are all lucky enough to run across something so utterly original that you just have to step back, admire it and tell your friends about it.  Last night, this popped up on my screen on one of my favorite music blogs, Aurgasm.  

 

This video is a video remix of the song "We Speak No Americano" by Yolanda B Cool & DCup. The video is a "hand dance" by the modern Irish Dance duo of Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding.  Basically, it a table slap, hand dance to the song.  The synchronization by the duo throughout the song is incredible.  This put a smile on my face.

Support the Columubs Symphony - Slightly Off Topic, But Important

This website, and this blog, are dedicated to the promotion and distribution of music by independent artists. Most of the people I deal with are involved in rock, blues and power pop music. However, I wanted to take a moment to make a plug for everyone in the Columbus community to think about the value that the Columbus Symphony brings, and to urge everyone to support them this year.

A vital arts community is has to be a 360-degree thing. Fine arts go hand in hand with other creative arts to make an interesting place for everyone.  The diversity of creative outlets bring a richness and complexity that can only be found in cities.  Add to that the vitality and intellectual depth contributed by one of the largest universities anywhere and you have a formula for success.  Obviously, as a relative newbie here, I'm not telling most people something that they don't already know.  But what I want you to think about is that the presence of a major symphonic orchestra is a critical part of that diversity. Now, after having dodged a bullet last year, the continuing pressures on corporate contributions leave the symphony once again in a serious financial bind.

My parents always instilled in me an appreciation for classical music. For a number of years now, I've enjoyed season subscriptions to the symphony (here in Columbus for the last two and in Charlotte previously). I look forward to these performances just as eagerly as I do any rock or blues performance. 

So, why am I writing this? First, the symphony is it totally underutilized resource for my generation (let's just say the young feeling, middle-age).  Why don't you treat yourself to some high culture and attend a symphony performance. If you have kids, make plans to bring them to some children's performances next year (I think the children's season is over for this year). If you have teenagers, bring them to something now. There are a number of exciting performances left this year to suit just about every taste with some "rockstar" performers coming up.

Secondly, recently the Symphony announced a matching gift for a maximum gift of up to $100,000 had been given to the symphony. That means that we in the community need to step up and do our part. I'm going to make a contribution, and I urge everyone reading this to do the same. Here's a link where you can make a contribution.

Thanks for reading.  Love to hear from you.