I need to do a better job of posting the new tunes that hit my radar and give me all the feels. A couple months ago I was watching a new episode of Austin City Limits, and I was introduced to Angel Olsen. “Sister” was my favorite tune of the set, and wouldn’t you know it, ACL has offered it up on their YouTube channel. Be mesmerized like me…
I discovered Bruce Cockburn’s music in the summer of 1994 – the year that his great album Dart to the Heart was released. I was in my mid-20’s, lacking any real focus or direction in life, and I immediately connected with his music as a calming and fulfilling presence in my life. When I’m full of angst and anxiety, feeling the weight and responsibility that comes with being a father and husband and provider – coupled with the awful news cycles of our present day – I can “go to the well” of Bruce’s music to ground me and put everything in perspective.
“40 Years In The Wilderness” is one of Bruce’s new tunes, released on 2017’s Bone on Bone, and has that subtle spirituality you’ll often find in Bruce’s music. There’s an obvious connotation to Jesus, who spent 40 days and nights in the Judean desert, tempted by Satan. Bruce compares it to his recent move to San Francisco with his wife and young daughter, and his return to church after a forty year absence:
After I wrote my memoir [2014’s Rumours of Glory], I hadn’t written a song in four years. I started going to church again, after not having gone for decades. There was a sermon about Jesus being baptized, which is when he really figures out who he is. He’s shocked, and he runs out into the desert to figure it out. That struck me with considerable force. I felt like I’d been struggling with that issue for 40 years. I’d started to identify myself as a Christian in the 1970s, and here I was, 40 years later, back in church. And I’m living in San Francisco now, with my wife and child. I never would have imagined myself living on the West Coast. But it was an answer. I went with it. I went west in another one of those cosmic moments. This song is about accepting those invitations. 
It’s really a gorgeous song, with a chorus that will stick with you after a couple listens. You’ll hear Mary Gauthier singing background vocals here too.
Lucky for me, I’ll be seeing Bruce in concert this Tuesday in Tempe (with a band, [!] which I haven’t experienced since February 2000).
Here’s a live acoustic version too:
I don’t recall what triggered it, but I fell into a YouTube rabbit hole last night, zeroed in on First Aid Kit. For those that don’t know, First Aid Kit is made up of two sisters from the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweden – Klara and Johanna Söderberg. They’re in their mid-20’s and are a week away from releasing their fourth album, Ruins (January 19th, Columbia/Sony Music). Their M.O. is Harmonies, and my God can these girls sing. Simply flawless, organic beauty.
If you were watching David Letterman’s final Late Night shows a couple years back, you may have caught First Aid Kit singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” (dedicated to Dave’s son Harry).
In 2010, they caught the eyes and ears of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst at the Austin City Limits Music Festival (I was there!). Conor and his Bright Eyes buddy Mike Mogis were at the festival with their awesome little folk supergroup Monsters of Folk (with Jim James, M. Ward). Conor and Mike, along with Jack White, helped get the ball rolling stateside, with Mogis actually producing First Aid Kit’s next two albums, The Lion’s Roar and Stay Gold.
Well, here we are in 2018 with album 4 about to drop. I’m not able to find who produced this one, but the three songs that are available now are great. And what spurred me into writing this post was hearing “Fireworks” for the first time this morning. You know the feeling, the kind of song that puts everything else on pause for a few minutes . I get a “The End of the World” vibe from it (which, by the way, check out Sharon Von Etten’s version). Ah, the heartbreak songs…
I’m always interested in what Pharrell’s up to, especially when it comes to N.E.R.D. He’s always super creative with the beats and grooves, so anything that comes along is worth my attention. A few weeks back, I saw some buzz on social media about N.E.R.D.’s new tune “Lemon,” in particular the Jimmy Kimmel performance. Before watching the performance, I dialed up “Lemon” to kick back and listen to the track. The opening part: “Cool,” I thought, “this is nice, but why the…” THEN, 44 seconds in, I understood. From the 44 second to 1:42 mark, things change. First off, the GROOVE – just what I love to hear from Pharrell and his N.E.R.D. buddies; but secondly and most importantly, RIHANNA takes over this shit, and unleashes a street-laced rap/rhyme that completely threw me for a loop. It’s power, it’s magic. And I can’t enough of it.
(P.S. As for the Kimmel performance, it features the dancer from the video below, but Ri-Ri wasn’t on hand to spit her verse, unfortunately.)
Call me a huge admirer of Dr. Dog. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Thanks.
“Jim Song” has that special formula that instantly connects with me: slow, acoustic guitar ballad; a lovesick and broken protagonist; throw in some harmonica and the drums/band that come in halfway through. One for the downtrodden and heartsick. Deep down folks, he knows she’s not right for him, but what he really misses is his pride.
A beautiful tune, and an easy one for us amateur guitar players (C, Am, Em, F and G).
Well ever since you went away I’ve been a mess inside
And there’s nothing you could do to get me satisfied
And my heart’s turned against me and it won’t abide
But I don’t really miss her like I miss my pride
Happy New Year! It’s 2018, I turn 48 this year, I have daughters in 9th and 6th grade, I started a new job last year, Donald Trump is President of the United States and – SCREEEECH! – music is still and will always be my refuge. Thank God for it.
With this new year come the familiar good feelings of renewal, rebirth and motivation to improve. I’m no David Dang Fricke, but I do enjoy coming here and banging on the keyboard, writing about the tunes that are carrying me through the day. So let’s see where this takes us, shall we?
I’m always up for new music discovery, and one solid area of today’s music streaming services – whether you’re on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc. – are their New Music playlists that update each Friday (which still feels weird after going our lifetimes waiting for those release Tuesdays). Every time I listen, I hear something that perks the old ears.
Another is the discovery areas. Spotify’s Discover Weekly and Apple’s A-Lists are always turning me on to great stuff, new and old.
For example, if you like roots/folk/Americana music, check out Apple Music’s The A-List: Americana playlist. It’s chock full of great stuff, and it was hitting me left and right with new artists. One was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s JD McPherson. “Crying’s Just a Thing You Do” has a cool old time rock n roll / rockabilly twist, as does his record for that matter (check out Undivided Heart and Soul).
Lots more to come in ’18 – right?
Great tunes abound. Here’s a recent favorite from the mind of James Mercer and the Shins.
Here’s one that’s impossible not to like: Valerie June. I didn’t get introduced until a PBS Newshour mini-feature on her just a few weeks ago. It piqued my interest and sent me on my way to her latest album, The Order of Time, which I’ve had on steady rotation since. A rootsy, bluesy, gospel, old-timey infused ride – and the main attraction: her unique voice.
Take a listen to my favorite: “Two Hearts” (joining the lexicon of other revered “Two Hearts” tunes along with Bruce Springsteen, Chris Isaak and the Jayhawks)..
If there’s one lesson I keep on learning when it comes to music, it’s to keep listening to the recommendation services that our music services offer. If you spend any decent amount of time listening to streaming music on Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music, et al, well – they know what you like, and they’ll slip in some gems now and then; and it doesn’t take long until you a hear a new favorite tune or band.
Case in point today: Google Play Music’s I’m Feeling Lucky feature. Up come my old pals Todd Snider, Uncle Tupelo, and Ryan Bingham – and then… “Santa Ana Winds” by Sons of Bill. They’re a band of brothers from Charlottesville, Virginia – James, Sam and Abe Wilson. The tune comes from their 2012 album Sirens, which was produced by Cracker’s David Lowery.
Obviously I heard the album cut first – a hard charging Americana rocker right up my alley. Guitars, organ, great hooks.. Then I hit up YouTube for some live action, and stumbled on a ‘Music Fog’ acoustic version which strips the song down to a heart-wrenching, gut-punching ballad. OOF! Hit me like a freight train. I think that may be James on lead vocal. Whichever Wilson brother it is, kudos to you my brother. Music to my ears. What a voice.
Another band where I’m late to the party. Hey, it just took a while to get from Charlottesville to Gilbert, Arizona. I’m on board now. All’s well.
Listen to ’em both, won’t you?
Just a few weeks ago I decided to jump back into Apple Music’s Beats One radio shows and see what was new and interesting. There’s a lot of quality content – Elton John’s Rocket Hour is cool, but the the best in my opinion is The Echo Chamber hosted by the Beastie Boys’ own Mike D. His tastes vary wildly (which we figured out in 1989 when Paul’s Boutique came out), but the part I’m enjoying most is getting a taste of the latest hip-hop through the filter of Mike D. I’m enjoying the new ones from A Tribe Called Quest and Run the Jewels, but overall, I lost touch with the hip-hop scene a long time ago. So it’s cool to be able to listen in to Mike’s picks and get turned on again to some good stuff.
Artists like Danny Brown, Vince Staples, and Childish Gambino…
I’ll share three of the tunes that really jumped out at me recently. The first being this track by Danny Brown. Brown is originally from Detroit, he’s 35, and his latest album, Atrocity Exhibition, is his fourth since his 2010 debut The Hybrid. “Really Doe” features Danny, Kendrick Lamar (who is everywhere I look, and deservedly so), Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. The tune just flows. Nothing I can listen to around my kids, but a great tune just the same…
Second up is 23 year old Vince Staples from Long Beach, CA. “War Ready” is only 2 + minutes, but man, just the way he delivers it, especially in the first 30 seconds, riding along with that beat. “Put my Glock away I got a stronger weapon that never runs out of ammunition so I’m ready for war okay…”
And last, actor/writer/producer/musician etc. etc. etc. Donald Glover, whose music alter ego is Childish Gambino. We’ve all seen him in something. For me, it’s HBO’s Girls. He has a brand new album called Awake, My Love!, and I’m still only one listen in, with many more to come. It’s less hip-hop and more a funk/soul tour de force that channels Parliament, Prince, and Sly Stone. It’s really something creative and unique, and this tune, “California,” is a good sampling…