Pete’s Top 10 in Music – 2013

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2014 will be to spend more time banging out some thoughts on this blog (which will turn 10 in December). It mystifies me how fast time flies between my posts here (and time in general).  I want to come here more often and blurt out my reactions to all the good tunes swirling around out there. So what holds me back? It’s things like growing older, deepening responsibilities, two children growing up, work, stress, obligations, laziness, Netflix, bourbon…

Still, it’s important for me to continue to have this outlet. Although attention spans on the internet are fleeting and fragmented, and not many eyes gaze upon this site anymore, I still like having my own little virtual nook. So continue on I shall, and hopefully more frequently.

So what of my musical interests in 2013? As usual, not so much time was spent jumping voraciously into newly released material (although there are a few that rattled my core). I still love jumping back in time (often with the help of Rdio and Spotify) to discover and re-discover the myriad tunes I’ve missed and/or neglected all these years.  It’s overwhelming, but it sure is exciting to know that so much music exists with the potential to have that profound impact that makes it so special.

So here’s my top 10 in music this year. These are the albums, songs, shows and moments that moved me in 2013…

10. [Album] Billie Joe + Norah – ‘Foreverly


This album came out in November and absolutely floored me. I had no expectations, and frankly wasn’t even aware of it until the week it came out. I took a listen, and I was hooked a minute into the album opener, “Roving Gambler.” The voices of Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day fame) and Norah Jones mesh perfectly in this sublime song for song cover of the Everly Brothers’ 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. The whole album soothes my laid back, old folkie soul.

9. [Song] Kings of Leon – “Temple

Saturday Night Live still has some great moments. Besides the regular appearances of my favorite cast members Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, and Taran Killam, the music guests can deliver and surprise. I enjoyed Haim this year, and I really enjoyed the Kings of Leon appearance, particularly “Temple,” the best straight ahead rock tune I’ve heard all year.
Here is KoL’s performance of the song from Live on Letterman:

8. [Song] Alice Smith – “Loyalty

Deep. Stunning. What a flawless voice. This slow burning, soulful track from Alice’s album, She, was an early year highlight. I saw her open for Citizen Cope several years back, and here’s hoping she makes it back to AZ soon, ’cause Alice, I Want You Just For Me.

7. [Song] Guy Clark – “My Favorite Picture Of You

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Want your heart ripped right out of your chest, tossed around like a hot potato, and shoved back in? In a good way? Then this tune is for you. This is Guy’s tribute to his late wife, Susanna, who passed away in 2012. Here’s an intimate intro and performance from Guy’s home:

6. [Show] Steve Earle & the Dukes – Scottsdale Center of the Performing Arts – October 14th


It had been 10 plus years since I last saw Steve perform with his band the Dukes. This year’s incarnation included long time members Kelly Looney on bass and Will Rigby on drums, and husband and wife-duo the Mastersons (Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore) on guitars, violin and background vocals. Seeing them in the hoity-toity confines of Scottsdale among the older set (okay, blue hairs) was entertaining in and of itself, but the main event was clear as could be: the bad-ass Steve Earle front and center, ripping through songs new and old, including his great new record The Low Highway. Highlights for me came from my favorite Steve album, I Feel Alright, with rip-roaring performances of “Hard Core Troubadour” and “Billy & Bonnie.”

5. [Album] John Grant – ‘Pale Green Ghosts


Thanks to Later with Jools Holland, a British music show which started airing stateside this year on the Palladia HD channel, I was introduced to the talented John Grant. ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ is electronic, melodic, grandiose, and beautiful. One of its best songs, “GMF,” will have you singing along loud & proud: “I am the greatest motherfuckerrr that you’re ever gonna meet / from the top of my head down to the tips of the toes on my feeet.” I’m telling you.

4. [Show] Prince & 3rd Eye Girl – Marquee Theater, Tempe, AZ – May 1st

It was a really long drought for me between Prince shows. I hadn’t seen him since his One Night Alone tour in 2002, when he was touring behind The Rainbow Children album. This time, it was Prince (full on ‘fro in effect) and his new all-female backing trio 3rd Eye Girl, in the intimate setting of the 1000-capacity Marquee Theater in Tempe. I wasn’t further than 50 feet from him, and as you could guess, the experience was unforgettable. There were the impressive new cuts like “Screwdriver” and “Fixurlifeup,” but the true magic for me came with tunes like “Forever In My Life” (with P on bass), “Joy In Repetition” (with Larry Graham on bass), and “Purple Rain” performed at the piano. Ain’t no party like a purple party.

3. [Album] Phosphorescent – ‘Muchacho


Matthew Houck released a hell of an album this year with ‘Muchacho.’ Its lead single, “Song for Zula” was a gorgeous introduction, an honest look at love and the frailty of the human condition. The album is rich with poignant, beautiful moments. Take for instance one of my favorites, “Down to Go”:

You say, Oh, you’ll spin your heartache into gold
And I suppose but it rips my heart out don’t you know
But if I’m waking each morning babe
All aching and ornery babe
All vacant and thorny, hey I’m down to go

Seeing Matthew and his band sing these songs live back in October at their Crescent Ballroom show – magnified the beauty and brilliance of this album, and showed how great music lives and breathes.

2. [Show] The Who – Arena, Glendale, AZ – February 6th


This may go down as the best last minute decision I’ve ever made. I had just wrapped up Pete Townshend’s great autobiography Who I Am early in the year, and was fully immersed in The Who and Pete’s solo work. It turned out that The Who were stopping through Phoenix in February, performing Quadrophenia in its entirety, followed by a greatest hits set. They are definitely  a Bucket List-caliber band to me, so I recruited a friend and got a couple of tickets. I’m so glad I made that decision. Watching Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey live (yes, even in 2013) is a must for any fan of rock & roll. Seeing them blast through hits like “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and the full epic performance of Pete’s rock opera, Quadrophenia, was a once in a lifetime thrill. I soaked it all in, and walked out with a Who-induced buzz that lasted weeks. Fantastic show.

1. [Artist] Neil Young

neil young2501

I’ll finish with Neil.

Once again, a book was the catalyst in inspiring me to jump into a catalog of work. I found Neil’s bio, Waging Heavy Peace,  a very entertaining read. It jumps from past to present and back, and you just never know what topic he’ll cover from chapter to chapter – whether it’s his Buffalo Springfield days in the 60’s, his adventures in Topanga Canyon in the 70’s, his passions in this century of developing a superior quality audio file or his alternate-fueled LincVolt car project… he’s all over the place (sort of how my brain behaves most of the time), and that appealed to me in the book.  So to accompany the book, I jumped head first into Neil’s catalog later this year – his vast collection of solo albums (wow, still a long way to go), the Springfield stuff, his Crazy Horse records, etc. Now, I’ve always loved Neil’s stuff – the stuff I’ve been familiar with over the years, that is. Albums like Harvest, Harvest Moon, and Rust Never Sleeps.  But for some reason, I hadn’t tracked down other gems – the biggest miss being his second album, 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Yes, I know “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By The River,” but damned if I didn’t discover that I had never – not once – listened to this 44 year old record in my entire 43 years on this planet! Over the past couple months, as I’ve listened repeatedly to masterpieces like “The Losing End (When You’re On)” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” – and I realize that this record would have been right up there with some of my landmark “life” albums (like ‘Sticky Fingers,’ ‘Hard Promises,’ and ‘Purple Rain’)… well, I feel like a dope.

But such is life. Better late than never. And speaking of Bucket Lists – Neil Young, you are right up there near the top. Cheers to a legend.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Pete’s Music Highlights: My Top 12 of 2012

I’ve been as quiet here on Ickmusic as I ever have during its eight year run.  Worry not, nothing (outside of my family) has taken a back seat to music in my life. It still fuels everything I do. But there has been a definite lull in my desire to sit down and type out regular blog posts. I know it tears you up inside (whoever “you” may be).

But it’s okay, is still here when I need it. Like today, for instance, when I feel like sharing my music highlights from the year Twenty-Twelve.

Here are some of the albums, songs and live shows that enriched my world in 2012…

1. Album: Band of Horses – ‘Mirage Rock

Fans and critics who were praying for another Everything All The Time or Cease to Begin cried foul when Mirage Rock was released this year. Me? I ate it right up. The album, produced by legendary classic rock engineer/producer Glyn Johns (The Who, The Stones, to name a couple) definitely steers heavily into 70’s classic rock and even soft rock category. I am just fine with that. In fact, the wistfully sweet “Long Vows” and “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” are two of my favorites. But the boys sure crank it up with tunes like “Dumpster World”, “Knock Knock”, and the early 70’s Stones-ish “Electric Music.” Yep, I’m all in on this record. Oh, and if you’re looking for beauty, track down “Relly’s Dream” from the Sonic Ranch Sessions bonus disc on their deluxe edition. I spun this album start to finish more than any other release this year.

2. Show: World Party – Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix – 12-02-2012


Thanks to Zia Records, the top independent record store here in Phoenix, I won a pair of tickets to see Karl Wallinger and his band World Party. As a big fan especially of the Goodbye Jumbo album, it was a rare honor to see Karl play an intimate venue like the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix (my #1 room in town). After a serious health scare in the early 2000’s (a brain aneurysm), Karl’s voice is as pure and dynamic as you’d hope for. Along with his sharp young Nashville bandmates, he tore through WP classics like “Is It Like Today”, “Ship of Fools”, “Way Down Now” and (my favorite) “Put The Message In The Box”; and also sat down at the keys for “She’s The One” and “God On My Side.” This gig far exceeded my expectations (I didn’t know what to expect, really), and I sincerely hope Karl continues on with making music and touring. I can’t wait to see him again.

Here’s a video I shot of Karl and violin/mandolin/harmony vocalist extraordinaire David Duffy singing “Mystery Girl” (bump up the quality to 720p or 1080p):

3. Show: Band of Horses, Marquee Theater, Tempe 10-26-2012


I’d seen Band of Horses a couple of times before, but only in a festival setting (Austin City Limits). This first true headlining show came out of the cancelled Railroad Revival Tour with Willie Nelson. Ben Bridwell and the boys set up at Tempe’s Marquee Theater in late October and tore the roof off the dump. Drawing from all four of their studio albums with a couple covers thrown in (Them Two and Hour Glass, nice & obscure!), the songs were rambunctious, mellow, inspiring, wistful, beautiful, rocking… all the adjectives that reminded me (and the full house) why we love them so much. Not to mention getting to chat for a while with Ben after the show. The dude abides.

4. Album: Ryan Bingham – ‘Tomorrowland


Give me the cool, gravelly roots/folk/country rockin’ twang of Ryan Bingham any day of week. Tomorrowland is a return to the more straight-ahead rockers that seemed to be missing on his last album, the T-Bone Burnett produced ‘Junky Star.’ He wastes no time on Tomorrowland’s opener, launching into “Beg for Broken Legs” with urgency and force. “Guess Who’s Knockin” is another strong one, featuring a satisfying F-bomb chorus. “Never Ending Show”, “Flower Bomb”, “The Road I’m On” – all standout tracks. If you haven’t checked out Tomorrowland (or Ryan Bingham) yet, you’re missing out. Just do it.

5. Show: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Arena, Glendale 12-06-2012


I took a couple of Bruce first timers a few hours early to go through the wristband lottery to try and get up near the front of the stage (“in the pit”, as they say). Sadly, our numbers were not of the lucky variety, and we were shut out. So we ended up behind the pit right next to the sound booth. The disappointment was very quickly washed away with Bruce’s first strum of the acoustic for the opener “Surprise, Surprise.” The first 30 minutes was a showcase of career nuggets: “No Surrender”, “I’m a Rocker”, “Hungry Heart”, “Prove It All Night”, “Trapped”, and “Lost in the Flood” – and all those before launching into the new Wrecking Ball material! Three plus hours from a tireless 63 year old and his very large troupe of supporting members – the E Street Band and then some. My eighteenth live Bruce experience, and yet another reminder why The Boss sits on the top of the pile in my world.

6. Show: Girls – Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix – 03-03-2012


Who would’ve thought I was seeing Girls the band in one of their final performances? For not long after, frontman, songwriter, and singer Christopher Owens announced on Twitter that the band was done. He’s moving on in another musical direction (his debut solo album, Lysandre, comes out in just a couple weeks). So I am fortunate to have seen Christopher and the band play songs I’ve come to absolutely love since discovering them a couple of years ago: “Laura”, “Alex”, “Honey Bunny”, “Love Like a River”, “Die”…

Something about Christopher’s music draws me in – the beauty and innocence, the light in the darkness – and I’ll basically be following him around for however long he decides to make music. A great show – short, but sweet.

7. AlbumNeil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Psychedelic Pill


A 27 minute album opener with the lyrics “I wanna get a hip-hop haircut”? Check. Something about this record, particularly the longer running tunes (“Driftin’ Back”, “Ramada Inn”, “Walk Like a Giant”), really grabbed hold of me. It’s the loud, distorted (and long) guitar solos, it’s the way Neil sneers his way through the lyrics… It’s the unconventional and F-you attitude of it all. Everything Mr. Neil Young represents.

And of course Neil has a 27 minute long official video for “Driftin’ Back”…

8. Show: Lenny Kravitz – Comerica Theater, Phoenix – 02-12-2012


Rock Star. Completely and indisputably. It’s fun to sit back and watch a performer just turn on all the glamor, glitz, and poses of a Rock Star. Lenny has perfected this persona over his 20+ years of performing. He’s got a quite the catalog to choose from, and watching him perform the hits (“Are You Gonna Go My Way” being my favorite) as well as tunes from his surprisingly strong latest album, ‘Black and White America‘, had us out of our seats the entire gig. Lenny has always been and remains a total badass. Such an entertaining show.

9. Song: Bruce Springsteen – “Jack of All Trades”

This is my favorite Bruce tune in years. I thought about including the whole ‘Wrecking Ball‘ on the “list”, but that wouldn’t be an honest assessment. While I enjoy Bruce’s Great Recession album from earlier this year, I just haven’t connected too much with the songs (of course, hearing them live is a whole ‘nother ball of wax – see above for my December 6th Bruce show). “Jack of All Trades” though, wow. A slow, dirge-like bass drum and piano start off the song. It builds and builds with each verse and ends with a forceful guitar solo from Tom Morello. The theme of strength, perseverance and optimism in the face of adversity is a common one in Bruce’s music, but he really connects with this tune in a goosebumps and tears kind of way.

“I’m the jack of all trades / honey we’ll be alright”

10. Album: Delta Spirit – ‘Delta Spirit


Matt Vasquez and company continue to evolve, refusing to stay pigeonholed the way some fans prefer (see Mirage Rock comments). “California” was the lead single and the most obvious stray from their former indie/folk sound – a more electronic modern pop sound. But they still rock out – “Money Saves” is one of my favorites, as are “Tear It Up” and “Tellin’ the Mind.” Nothing matches my three standout tracks from their last album, ‘History From Below‘ – “911”, “Bushwick Blues” and “Salt in the Wound” – but that’s not a knock on this record. I love a band that explores new territory and challenges themselves to try something new – Delta Spirit is a band I’ll be following for years to come.

11. Album: Fred Eaglesmith – ‘6 Volts


It wasn’t until about midway though the year that I reconnected with Canadian singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith. I listened to him in the late 90’s and early 00’s, but for some reason, I seemed to veer away. ‘6 Volts’ was released in January, and quickly reminded me what drew me to Fred: clever songwriting and storytelling, and great folk/root-rock sounds and rhythms. ‘”Betty” is a standout track from 6 Volts, with Fred conjuring up dark imagery on as cheerful a melody and cadence as possible: “Betty what’d you do with the gun? There’s strangers at my door / and there’s more where they come from / …was it the money, was it the drugs / was it somebody that you used to know / …Betty Betty why won’t you tell me”.

12. AlbumTrampled by Turtles – ‘Stars and Satellites


Straight out of Duluth, Minnesota, I became aware of Trampled by Turtles when I saw them at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival. I’ve seen categorizations bandied about in the past for this band, like “newgrass” and “speedgrass”… but with this year’s release, people will have to search for new adjectives. They jump into more rootsy, Americana-inspired territory here, bringing the tempo down with some great tunes like “Midnight on the Interstate”, “Alone”, “Widower’s Heart” and “Beautiful.” Of course, they haven’t abandoned their bluegrass roots, their banjo and fiddle players remain. So if you want your speed fix, listen to “Don’t Look Down” or “Walt Whitman.”

Diamond Rugs

If that crazy bastard John McCauley is involved, count me in. John’s main gig is Deer Tick, but he’s also popped up in a couple of indie supergroups: Middle Brother (along with Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez and Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes) and, most recently, Diamond Rugs, featuring members of other bands like Los Lobos, Dead Confederate, and the Black Lips.

The bare bones, stripped down rock n’ folk vibe is prevalent in the record. John’s signature snarl shows up on songs like “Gimme a Beer,” “Call Girl Blues” (killer horn riffs by Lobos’ Steve Berlin and Deer Tick’s Robbie Crowell, presumably), and the killer holiday-themed ballad “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant” (John’s good at those tear jerkers when he wants to be).

Another cool thing about this record is new exposure to some of the other guys. Ian Saint Pe of the Black Lips opens the album with a great one, the punked out, sneering “Hightail.” The tune pulled me right into this record…

“Blue Mountains” is one of Ian’s others songs that I really like. I like his laid back, sing/talk style.

And then there’s “Country Mile,” sung by Dead Confederate‘s Hardy Morris, which jumps between fuzzed out psychedelic rock and country blues. There’s all sorts of cool instrumental shit going on in this one – pedal steel, guitar and keyboard effects – particularly in the last minute or so of the song…

Add this to the list of albums that gets better with each listen. The contributions from all of these guys makes for a diverse experience that has you finding something new to like each time around.

Diamond Rugs will play The Late Show with David Letterman on June 25th. You can pick up the record on Amazon here… Diamond Rugs

Delta Spirit’s new one

The new (self-titled) Delta Spirit album came out earlier this month, and it’s a good ‘un. It’s the southern California band’s third full length release, and is a departure of sorts from the more folk-based rock influences of their first two (excellent) albums.

Plenty of hard driving rock n roll (“Money Saves”, “Empty House”, “Tear It Up”, “Tellin’ the Mind”); slow burners (“Home”, “Yamaha”) but also more electronic touches like “California,” a tune the band previewed before the release date that seemed to polarize a certain fan-base who wanted more of the same.

Delta Spirit continues to evolve, and I’m excited to be along for the ride. Each of the eleven songs offers something unique and special, and with each listen, I find something new to like about each one.

Here’s the just-released video for “California”, which captures alternative teen angst and confusion. In a way, I think of it as sort of a 21st century update to Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” video.

Since reading I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, I’m a lot more aware of the director role in video making. This one was directed by Abteen Bagheri, a 22-yr old recent Stanford grad. Nice gig!

Buy: Delta Spirit

Brett Dennen, I like you

Goodness gracious me, have you heard the latest Brett Dennen album? Loverboy has been out for a year, but it took me until just a couple weeks ago to hear a tune from it (“Little Cosmic Girl” on SiriusXM), which sent me scurrying to check it out.

I’m all about the joyous and positive vibe of Brett’s latest record – and no song better captures it than “Dancing At A Funeral.”

I recommend running – not walking – to buy this album. Or at least dial it up on your Rdio or Spotify or Mog or whatever you may be using in this spoiled rotten digital age we find ourselves in.

Buy: Brett Dennen’s Loverboy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version)

Pete’s Music Charts: January


It’s 2012, and I’ve yet to put finger to keyboard to whip up a post on this, my site, my IckMusic. No, music hasn’t taken a back seat to anything. It’s still at the forefront, ever accompanying me on this journey I’m on.

I am, however, focusing on thinking differently, and trying to undo some of the mistakes I’ve made up to this point, this fifth decade of my Life on Earth. I came across an Albert Einstein quote a couple weeks ago (at least that’s who it was credited to).

It reads: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

That hit home, and that’s exactly how I’m approaching the year. A fresh outlook. A realization that some serious tweaks are needed in my life – in all areas, but mostly in the financial realm.

Most significantly, I’m trying to get my ass – and therefore my family’s collective ass – out of debt. I’m fully ingesting the Dave Ramsey Kool-Aid. His Total Money Makeover is a challenge, to say the least, but it also makes a lot of sense, and that’s what I’ve embarked on. So, my very unglamorous but very much needed focus this year is debt reduction. Laser focus, “gazelle intense” focus, as Dave puts it.

But I can’t stay completely quiet here. I have to chime in at least every once in a while, right? To start, I had an idea about leveraging the detailed music charts available on Like a lot of you fellow music geeks out there, I track the music I listen to on It not only captures everything I listen to on iTunes and my iPhone, but also Rdio and Spotify. So that pretty much has it covered top to bottom. I’ve been “scrobbling” on since December 2004 – the same month I started this blog, coincidentally.

So why not take a look each month at my previous month’s listening habits. What artists and tunes are doing it for me from month to month?

You’re totally into this? Awesome. Here we go…

January 2012 Charts (from

Top 5 Artists:

1. Wilco

Well this already makes sense. On January 21st, I had the opportunity to catch the band at Tempe’s Gammage Auditorium – their first Phoenix area show since 2004. Two and a half hours long, in a small, intimate venue, and each member of the band in prime touring form – just two shows into their West Coast swing.

“Via Chicago”, from their great 1999 album Summerteeth has taken a sinister turn. You really have to see & hear it to believe it, but at a few different times during the tune, the entire band goes absolutely, evilly ballistic for about 20 seconds. A cacophony of sound, Glenn Kotche going apeshit on the drum kit, the stage drenched in blood red lights… and all the while, there’s Tweedy, who continues strumming on his guitar and singing “Via Chicago” like nothing’s happening. It’s brilliant, and could drive a sane man mad.

They played tunes from their entire catalog, and focused heavily on their latest album, The Whole Love.

I admit to not spending near enough time with the record since its release. But like all great live bands, their showcasing of new material on tour will pull you right in, and have you rushing home to press Play. And that’s exactly what I did.

I virtually wore out my digital copy of The Whole Love.

2. Prince

Huge surprise, I know. In January, I can attribute my heavy Prince listening to the release of a fantastic new bootleg called The Parade Demos. It includes not only the tunes we’re familiar with from the Parade – Music From The Motion Picture Under The Cherry Moon album, but in their early configuration. “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”, the Parade opener, is “Wendy’s Parade” here.

And the collection includes some unreleased gems from the era: “Others Here With Us”, “Old Friends 4 Sale” (the bluesy, stripped down version, not the overproduced one from The Vault – Old Friends 4 Sale release), and the trippy and fun “All My Dreams”, a psychedelic slice of funk/pop. These are tunes that Prince geeks have been hearing for a while, but never like this. The quality is pristine.

3. Bruce Cockburn

I find comfort in Bruce Cockburn.

With a lot on my mind this year, and a lot of energy devoted to positive changes, it’s nice just to wind down with Mr. Cockburn. This time around, it was a fantastic 2002 compilation called Anything Anytime Anywhere (Singles 1979-2002). Great tunes like “A Dream Like Mine”, “The Coldest Night of the Year”, “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, and “Pacing the Cage”. Also, two new tunes released with this collection: “My Beat” and “Anything Anytime Anywhere”.

4. David Bowie

I admit to being largely ignorant of Bowie’s overall body of work. I’ve been familiar with the radio hits over the years as a casual fan, and that’s about it. But I do recognize this as a fault – a serious gap as a music fan, especially as much as I love the era of 60’s and 70’s rock & roll. So I’ve been trying to correct some of this behavior by listening to albums like Aladdin Sane, Low, Heroes, and Space Oddity.

One tune I’ve loved since it came out is “New Killer Star” from his 2003 album Reality. Once again, I’d heard the single, but never the album. So I’ve dug into Reality as well. A long way to go, but it’s a start.

5. Girls

Probably, no, definitely, my favorite band in the land right now. Front man and songwriter Christopher Owens makes music that connects deeply with me. It’s hard to explain, but every nuance, every chord and vocal structure of his songs just feels right to me. Since their latest album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost came out last year, I’ve been consistently drifting in and out of obsession with their small but powerful catalog.

If I can recommend one thing to you, it would be to pick up their 2 full lengths and their EP, Broken Dreams Club (I guess that’s three things).

Best of all, they’re touring in the next couple months, and stopping at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix on March 3rd. Yeah I can’t wait.

Top 5 Songs

1. Wilco – “Capitol City”

This is one of my favorites off their album, The Whole Love. Really dig the fun, poppy, carnival-atmosphere vibe…

2. King Charles – “Mississippi Isabel”

I listened to this because of a new music recommendation from Rdio. Really catchy stuff from this young British artist – part Adam Ant, part Gary Glitter, part Edward Sharpe. Although the novelty has worn off a bit, it’s a catchy tune, and your kids will like it.

“She kissed me once I took her out for lunch and she never kissed me again.”

3. Wilco – “A Shot in the Arm”

I never tire of this tune from Summerteeth. After beholding it live once again, it was time to spin it a few times…

4. Prince & the Revolution – “I Wonder U”

I’ve been listening to the Parade Demos version, which features Prince on vocals (along with Wendy & Lisa). Prince doesn’t sing on the regular album version.

5. Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band – “This Little Light of Mine”

This comes from the amazing Live In Dublin CD/DVD. It’s Bruce and his Sessions Band cranking it up gospel style.

It will lift you right up outta your seat.
It will inspire you.
It will make you believe that you can do anything.
The perfect song for any new year.

Pete’s Top Albums of 2011

2011 was another year of musical discovery for me. Clocking in highest on the discovery meter were San Francisco’s Girls; but right up there with Girls were two bands that can’t technically qualify for my best of 2011 album list: Delta Spirit and Titus Andronicus. Their latest albums – History from Below and The Monitor (respectively) – were both released in 2010, but I didn’t hear them until this year. Overall, when I think of 2011, these three groups reigned supreme in my corner of the world.

When it comes to 2011 live shows, it was also Titus Andronicus that blew my mind (back on April 18th at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix). All punk and passion, courtesy of front man Patrick Stickles. My jaw hit the floor.

But on to the albums. Looking back at my iTunes and listening history, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to muster up a Top Ten list. Sure, I could B.S. and include something like the Beasties’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two – which I enjoyed on some level, but never listened to straight through more than twice. Thinking about albums, ’tis all about honesty, and what’s truly important to me as a full body of work. So in that spirit, here are my Top 8 albums of 2011…

1. GirlsFather, Son, Holy Ghost ($5 on Amazon)

I had heard – and loved – “Laura,” a single off Girls first album a couple years back. But it wasn’t until this year that I fell completely head over heels for the San Francisco band led by Christopher Owens. The quirky “Honey Bunny” video drew me in – and when I tracked down the new album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it was over – I was hooked. It’s rich with emotion, it rocks, it’s delicate… I can’t wait to follow Christopher around from here on out and hear what he has to say. Both Girls full lengths and the EP are excellent – discovering them has been the music highlight of my year.

Highlight: “Alex” – Hypnotic. Beautiful. Sublime.

2. Greg BrownFreak Flag ($4.99 on Amazon)

Here’s one that surprised me. Though I loved “The Poet Game” single many years back, no full album of Greg Brown’s had really come along that knocked my socks off. Freak Flag did just that. Full of beauty, wisdom and Greg’s wry sense of humor, it’s the folk masterpiece of 2011.

Highlight: “Where Are You Going When You’re Gone” (mp3) – All groove and growl. Toe tappin’ funky folk (there is such a thing).

3. Middle BrotherMiddle Brother ($5 on Amazon)

I love Delta Spirit. I love Deer Tick. I love Dawes. So it’s no surprise that Middle Brother was up among the tops this year, since the group is made up of the front men of all 3 groups. I had the pleasure of seeing Middle Brother live this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, which may very well have been their last performance… but something tells me Taylor Goldsmith, John McCauley and Matt Vasquez will be making more music together somewhere down the road.

Highlight: “Million Dollar Bill” – This is a Goldsmith-penned song that also shows up on Dawes’ new record, Nothing Is Wrong. On the MidBro version, the three guys each get a verse, and the result is profound, in my ever so humble opinion. I prefer it to the Nothing is Wrong version.

4. DawesNothing Is Wrong ($4.99 on Amazon)

It’s hard not to be endeared to this L.A. band that channels the SoCal /  Lauren Canyon 70’s vibe. Taylor Goldsmith is a brilliant lyricist, and they’re just getting started. That’s scary (in a very good way). And their live show? Forget about it. Passionate and fiery stuff…

Highlight: “Fire Away” – This tune features Jackson Browne on background vocals, Taylor’s brother Griffin taking lead vocals on the bridge, and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench on the organ. Great sing along chorus – a tune that really takes off into the stratosphere by song’s end – especially live.

5. My Morning JacketCircuital ($4.99 on Amazon)

Jim James (er – Yim Yames) and the boys of MMJ always put me in a good place. Another solid studio album featuring tunes that ignite in a live setting. I must have watched MMJ on at least 3-4 festival webcasts this summer. Another mind-blowing live band that can also deliver in the studio. Confession though: I just don’t like “Holdin On To Black Metal.”

Highlight: “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” – I’m a sucker for some mellow MMJ. A great moment when the drums come in at “I-I-I-I’m going where there ain’t no fear…”

6. Deer TickDivine Providence ($5 on Amazon)

Snarly wild man John McCauley is back with another Deer Tick record. This time he shares the spotlight with drummer Dennis Ryan and guitarist Ian O’Neill, who write and sing on a few tunes. Divine Providence has a little bit of everything – honky-tonk rock, punk, pop. Oh, do I need to mention they’re also a killer live band? I saw them three times this year – twice in their home state of Rhode Island as they took over the Newport Blues Cafe during Folk Festival time.

Highlight: “The Bump” – The Deer Tick theme song. “We’re full grown men! But we act like kids!” The drunken devil strikes again.

7. Lenny KravitzBlack & White in America ($10.49 on Amazon)

I was frankly surprised by Lenny’s latest. Rock, funk, soul, pop – yep, pretty much the Lenny Kravitz blueprint throughout his career. But the hooks and melodies caught on quick with me, and had me coming back for more helpings. The last time I enjoyed a Lenny album this much, I was 21 (1991’s Mama Said)!

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it.

Highlight: “Liquid Jesus” – A sexy 70’s soul vibe as Lenny channels his inner Curtis Mayfield.

8. Frank TurnerEngland Keep My Bones ($9.99 on Amazon)

I was looking forward to a full length album from the UK’s Frank Turner since stumbling across his set at the ACL Festival a couple years back. It was worth the wait. Frank’s working class, populist folk/punk is alive and well in England Keep My Bones.

Highlight: “If Ever I Stray” – Certain songs give me goosebumps and make my eyes well up with their sheer power. This is one of those songs.

I Support The War on Drugs

Man, I can get behind The War on Drugs. Their latest, Slave Ambient, is fantastic  – one of those albums that instantly draws you in.

It’s a rock & roll framework, but the album title doesn’t lie – there’s an ambient undertone to the whole album. The keyboard / synth sounds add that dreamscape layer that makes this whole record a really cool journey.

Here’s just one example: “Your Love Is Calling My Name”…

Slave Ambient is only $5 on Amazon. You can also check it out streaming on Rdio or on Spotify.

Old Californio’s latest, ‘Sundrunk Angels’

Somehow I missed the summer release date of Old Californio‘s latest album, Sundrunk Angels. Well, I was on a 2 week east coast vacation, so that may be why – but, better late than never.

The Pasadena, California band – led by guitarist, lead singer & songwriter Rich Dembowski – knocked me off my feet back in March 2009 when I heard “Mother Road” for the first time.

They have a rootsy, harmony-filled folk-rock vibe reminiscent of other Golden State bands of years past – groups like the Byrds, Moby Grape, and the good old Grateful Dead.

courtesy of Kent Gelb

I’ve had a chance to spin the new record a few times now, and it does not disappoint. Favorites for me so far include the strong album opener, “Learn to Cheat”; the slowed down, almost mournful tone of “Sundrunk Angels”; the explosive band treatment of “Allon Camerado” (check out the build up around the 3 minute mark); and the simple beauty of “Unsatisfied” – tasty guitar picking, a lazy harmonica and some killer harmonies (something the Old Californio boys excel at).

Another solid album from Old Californio. I hope Rich and the boys keep going and get the recognition they deserve outside of the southern California Americana/folk-rock scene.

Listen to Old Californio – “Allon Camerado

Buy Sundrunk Angels.

On the Web: Old Californio’s Web Site | Facebook | Twitter

Breaking Bad is the Best Show on Television

My month-long Breaking Bad frenzy has sadly come to an end. On September 24th, I decided to check out Episode 1 / Season 1, the pilot episode, on Netflix. Three and a half weeks later, I’ve watched every episode of all four seasons – and I’m desperate for more.

I can say without any doubt that this is the best television series I have ever watched. I had similar feelings about the genius of The Sopranos in its heyday, but my admiration for and obsession over Breaking Bad surpasses even that.

Breaking Bad follows the life of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), an Albuquerque high school chemistry teacher who – after being diagnosed with lung cancer – decides to join forces with a drug dealing former student of his (Jesse Pinkman – played by Aaron Paul) and become a methamphetamine cook. The goal is to tackle his growing financial problems, and to provide for his family when he’s dead and gone.

Walt and Jesse quickly go from small potatoes to working for the largest meth distribution ring in the Southwest. Insanity ensues – brutal violence, betrayal, fear… brilliant subplot after brilliant subplot. The relationships between Walt and the amazing ensemble cast of characters: Hank, his brother-in-law who also happens to be a DEA agent; Walt’s wife Skyler; his boss, Gus Fring; his lawyer Saul Goodman (played by the great Bob Odenkirk)… it’s all so well acted, so well written, and so utterly unpredictable.

I won’t go on and on, but I do want to recommend this series to anyone that may read this. Go to Netlfix. The first three seasons are streaming. Season 4 is available on iTunes. Get started and thank me later. Warning: it will become an addiction. Get ready for some late nights and weird dreams.

Music: One highlight of Breaking Bad is the great selection of music throughout (a quality also shared by The Sopranos). You’ll hear all sorts of great tunes for the first time. One example for me was in “Thirty-Eight Snub” (Episode 2 of Season 4). Jesse is trying to drown out his demons by surrounding himself in his home with acquaintances and large amounts of drugs. He also buys an expensive, supercharged sound system and gets lost in the loud music. At the end of the episode, the party has cleared out, and Jesse is left alone in his trashed house.  He cranks up “Digital Animal” by Austin’s Honey Claws, and collapses next to the speaker. The cool electro/hip-hop vibe coupled with Jesse’s darkness and desperation really makes for an intense ending. As for Honey Claws, it doesn’t appear they’re active anymore. It’s hard to tell. But this track rocks…

“d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-digital animal freaky folks”

The AMC site has all the music listed for Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, and Season 4.

Amazon Link: Digital Animal [Explicit]