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

norah-billie

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

Photo credit: Nashvilleportraits.com
Photo credit: Nashvilleportraits.com

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

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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

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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
prince-late2013

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

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 – Jobing.com Arena, Glendale, AZ – February 6th

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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62XcMCzIIas

New Steve Earle Song: “Waitin’ On The Sky”/ new album out April 26th

Crazy to think that it’s been almost four years since a new Steve Earle album. Can’t blame him really – the man’s a workaholic: poet, author, activist, actor, and then – oh yeah – that songwriting/music gig.

Steve’s been busy writing his first novel, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, and recording his new album of the same name. He mentioned in Rolling Stone recently that it’s “probably the countriest record I’ve done in a long time.”

Earlier today, Steve’s label, New West Records, came up with this cool offer for a free MP3 from the new record, and a PDF excerpt from his new novel. All you have to do is have a Facebook account and click to accept it.

The new tune sounds great – fresh and familiar at the same time. It’s that unmistakeable Steve Earle vibe. Take a listen, then head over to download it.

By the way, another amazing album cover from Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick, who’s created every Steve Earle album cover since 1996’s I Feel Alright (he also did the cover for Yellow Moon by the Neville Brothers). His art makes me want to pick up all of these albums on vinyl. Beautiful work.

Steve Earle – “Waitin’ On The Sky”
[audio:earle-sky.mp3]

PRE-ORDER: I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (the album, out April 26) | I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (the novel, out May 12)

DOWNLOAD: The MP3 of “Waitin’ On The Sky” and an excerpt from Steve’s new novel here.

KMAG YOYO [New from Hayes Carll]

It was just a matter if time before I got around to Hayes Carll. After all, I’m a long time fan of artists cut from the same cloth: Steve Earle, John Prine and Todd Snider in particular. Hayes sounds a lot like Snider, very similar singing voices – and as far as his sense of humor goes, Snider and Prine are blood brothers of Carll (don’t get confused on “Bottle In My Hand” though, that is indeed Mr. Snider joining along).

As a Rdio subscriber, I’m always jumping on the new releases every Tuesday. Today, Hayes Carll’s latest, KMAG YOYO (& other American stories), hit the real and virtual shelves. It was SiriusXM Outlaw Country that played me “The Lovin’ Cup” today, and I headed right over to Rdio to check out the whole album.

The title of the album may be familiar to our military, but silly old civilian me, I had to Google it. It’s an Army acronym for “Kiss My Ass Guys, You’re On Your Own”.

“The Lovin’ Cup” is right up my twang-lovin’ alley – an up tempo, roadhouse shit-kicker of a song…

“I’m sittin’ cross-legged in the heartache tree knowin’ damn well you ain’t a-thinkin’ bout me…”

Buy the MP3 of The Lovin’ Cup, or check out all of KMAG YOYO (& other American stories) on Amazon.

Check out Hayes Carll’s Official Site | Facebook

Here’s Hayes and his band performing the title track recently at SiriusXM’s studios…

Pilgrim

Cover Art: Tony Fitzpatrick

I still have a bad taste in my mouth from this week’s Radio Daze piece, so I’ve been doing my best to reverse the damage with – ya know – real music. And it gets no more genuine than Steve Earle. I finally dug out this CD a couple of months ago after a few years of accidental hibernation. In 1998, Steve joined forces with bluegrass icons The Del McCoury Band to release The Mountain, a fantastic collection of bluegrass tunes that range from down & dirty songs about life in the mines, the Civil War and train ridin’,  to the downright sublime.

The album wraps up with “Pilgrim”, which falls into the latter category: 5 minutes and 28 seconds of beauty, affirmation, and faith. The surrounding cast of characters in this tune ain’t too shabby either. Joining Steve on harmonies in this song: Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Kathy Chiavola, Tim O’Brien, Gillian Welch, and Dave Rawlings (who I just featured a couple weeks ago). On mandolin? Sam Bush.  Dobro? Jerry Douglas.

Busy studio in Nashville that day. Anyhow, this is just a work of beauty. Not to mention the whole album is tremendous. So here…

Steve Earle & the Del McCoury BandPilgrim (mp3)

Pick up The Mountain on Amazon.

Visit: Steve Earle on the web / Del McCoury Band on the web

Pete’s Favorite Albums of the 00’s

Quick Note: I didn’t want to bombard my Top 10 with Springsteen and Prince albums, so I chose my favorites of theirs from the 00’s. Did I spend more time with  M.I.A.’s Arular than with Bruce’s Magic or Prince’s Musicology?  No way.  Just so you know, I limited my picks to one album per artist.

And now, on to the completely subjective look at 10 of my favorite albums of the decade!

10. Prince – The Rainbow Children (2001)

rainbowchildren

Jazzy, funky, and dipping deeply into P’s then new-found life as a Jehovah’s Witness, this album connected with me more than any Prince album of the 00’s (and nope, no JW am I). As much as the 54 second “Wedding Feast” makes me cringe, the album makes up for it with great tracks like “Digital Garden”, “The Work, Pt. 1”, and “The Sensual Everafter”.

Favorite tune: “1+1+1 is 3” (mp3) – to me, easily the funkiest Prince song of the 00’s.

9. M.I.A. – Arular (2005)

arular

I couldn’t leave the girls out! M.I.A. came out of nowhere halfway through the decade with her brand of world-influenced electronic hip-hop. I love her attitude, her style, her accent, and she ain’t so bad lookin’ either. I think this is one of those love it or hate it albums. My wife can’t stand it. But for me, songs like “Pull Up The People”, “Fire Fire”, and “Amazon” just, er, do it for me, okay?

Favorite tune: “Bucky Done Gun” – super sexy militant rappin’ time:

8. Steve Earle – Jerusalem (2002)

jerusalem

Steve had a lot to say about the state of our country after 9/11 and the ensuing conflicts overseas. Of course he was his controversial self with “John Walker’s Blues”. He was fierce as hell on “Ashes to Ashes” and “Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)”. And he looked for a world of peace in the gentle album closer, “Jerusalem”. A great album top to bottom.

Favorite tune: “What’s a Simple Man To Do?” (mp3) – an organ-driven barnburner of a tune about a Mexican drug smuggler’s letter to his madre.

7. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

yhf

Sure, some people think this is the obligatory best of the decade album – even if they think it doesn’t merit it. But guess what, it’s completely subjective, and certain albums connect with certain people. YHF was on constant rotation early in the decade. Wilco’s creativity and originality were through the roof in the late 90’s to early 00’s. The changes in direction between Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and A Ghost is Born are startling.

Favorite tune: The “War on War” and “Jesus, Etc.” combo special.

6. Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump (2000)

sophtwareslump

The brainchild of Jason Lytle, this futuristic, tech-themed album – with its gorgeous, sweeping electronic-based melodies – blew me away. Who would’ve guess I’d have such strong feelings about songs like “”Broken Household Appliance National Forest” and “Miner at the Dial-a-View”?

Favorite tune: “The Crystal Lake” and the beautiful “So You’ll Aim Toward the Sky” (YouTube).

5. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

funeral

Win Butler and his merry troupe of noisemakers got my attention with “Old Flame” from their self-titled EP. And when I heard this album, I was hooked.

Favorite tune: “Wake Up” (YouTube) – especially after seeing them live at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. A sea of people singing “Whoooa-ooooa Whoooa-oooo-oooo-ooo”.

4. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)

seegersessions

When Bruce takes a break from the E Street Band, you never know what you’re gonna get. And with the Sessions record, it was a return to the roots of American folk music, and he brought along about 15-20 of his friends for the ride. This album provided countless hours of joy around our house. And the tour stop through Phoenix was an absolute thrill for me and my wife. Hey Bruce, bring back the Sessions Band!!

Favorite tune: “Pay Me My Money Down”. A family favorite. The kids still sing it.

3. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin (2008)

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2. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time (2006)

everything

Thank God these guys came along. Led by the gentle voice of Ben Bridwell, the first two Band of Horses albums are folk/indie masterpieces. There isn’t a bit of filler in either of these, and I look forward to following these guys for the rest of my lifetime.

Favorite tune: “Monsters” [mp3] (from EATT) and “Windows Blues” [mp3] (from CTB) – surprise, the slower tunes.

1. Marah – Kids in Philly (2000)

kidsinphilly

In 2000, when I was going through some “woe is me” / “whaddya mean I can’t get this girl back”-type stuff, this album picked me up, punched me in the nuts, and knocked me back over. I was living down by the new Tempe Town Lake, and I’d run around it a few nights a week – I’d start running as the opening banjo riff of “Faraway You” ignited the album, and I wouldn’t stop ’til the closing street harmonies of “This Town”. The album was super cathartic, and every time I listen to it, I think of that summer of 2000. August 2000 also included one of the best rock ‘n roll shows I’ve ever seen: Marah at Tempe’s now defunct Long Wong’s – a small, sweat-soaked bar. I’ll never forget the energy of Dave, Serge and the boys that night. The album and band encapsulate what stripped down rock ‘n roll is all about.

Favorite Tune: “Round Eye Blues” (mp3) – capturing the spirit of Motown and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, this is a vivid and beautiful song, sung in the perspective of a young man in Vietnam:

Fables tell of men who fell
With swords dangling from their chest
The old guys down at the taproom swear
The Japs could kill you best
But late at night I could still hear the cries
Of three black guys I seen take it in the face
I think about them sweet Motown girls they left behind
And the assholes that took their place

Goosebumps every time.

When all is said and done, this is the album that affected me most personally, and therefore must be crowned: Pete’s Album of the 00’s!

Video: Steve Earle at Amoeba Records

I knew I subscribed to Amoeba’s video RSS feed for a reason! Once in a while, they post a gem. Case in point today: Steve Earle.

Here’s Steve’s 45 minute in-store performance from back in May. But be sure to check out the insightful 13 minute interview too, where he discusses his early years as a Nashville songwriter, his former drug habit, The Wire, Radiohead’s refusal to play “Creep”, and even Telluride, Colorado.

In the words of Steve: Telluride is “too high to support intelligent life. I’ve seen that proven over and over and over again.” Good thing my folks only live there five months out of the year!

In-Store Set List:

Taneytown
Rex’s Blues (Townes Van Zandt)
Fort Worth Blues
Pancho & Lefty (TVZ)
Brand New Companion (TVZ)
Rich Man’s War
Lungs (TVZ)
Copperhead Road

2:28

A lot can be accomplished musically in two minutes and twenty eight seconds. What brought this to mind was a Little Feat tune I heard on my way to work recently: “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now”. It funks and it rocks & rolls and grooves…makes me wanna strut down a crowded street with a sweet hat and some big fat shades – a grin on my face. “GIT the hell outta my way people, I’m coming THROUGH!”

I sorted my iTunes by Time, and found 37 tunes in my online collection that clock in at 2:28 (three of ’em by Jim Croce, go figure). Here’s that sweet-ass Little Feat tune and eight other nuggets of under 2:28 goodness…

If you’ve got a spare 22:12, listen to ’em all now…

Little Feat – Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (mp3) – from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

Steve Earle – South Nashville Blues (mp3) – from I Feel Alright

Reverend Horton Heat – Baddest of the Bad (mp3) – from Liquor in the Front

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Who’ll Stop the Rain (mp3) – from Cosmo’s Factory

Old 97’s – Coahuila (mp3) – from Drag It Up

The Byrds – I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better (mp3) – from Mr. Tambourine Man

Calexico – Sunken Waltz (mp3) – from Feast of Wire

Jim Croce – Time in a Bottle (mp3) – from The Definitive Collection

Paul Weller – Spring (At Last) [mp3] – from Illumination [Limited Edition w/ Bonus DVD]

Ick’s Pick (Week XIX): Steve Earle – ‘Townes’

I’m sitting down to write this after the improbable occurrence of just seeing Steve Earle in the 30 Rock season finale. Oh my, what an ending! It’s a kidney benefit for Jack’s dad, and a We Are the World-esque gathering of talent comes together – Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, the Beastie Boys, Rhett Miller, Sheryl Crow, Moby, Michael McDonald, Wyclef Jean, Clay Aiken, Mary J. Blige, Adam Levine, and on and on… hilarious! And to see ol’ bearded Steve standing there between Wyclef and McDonald. Priceless…

So on to Steve’s new record, which dropped this week. There’s really no shock factor involved in listening to ‘Townes’, Steve Earle’s new album of Townes Van Zandt covers. I mean, it’s not like Steve is interpreting the Cole Porter songbook, or releasing an all-mandolin record of Devo songs. So much of Townes’s sound has been prevalent in Steve’s music since the beginning, and therefore the album just sounds – right. Townes was a mentor to Steve, his outlaw father figure. Nary a show goes by without Steve talking about him. So it just seemed inevitable that a record like this would come along.

Steve takes on 15 Townes songs on the album – some of them familiar to me as a casual TVD listener: “Pancho and Lefty”, “White Freightliner Blues”, “Don’t Take It Too Bad”… and then some not so familiar to me – songs like “Where I Lead Me”, “Loretta”, “Brand New Companion”…

With help from Tim O’Brien, Tom Morello (electric on “Lungs”), Steve lovely wife Allison Moorer, among others, Steve injects new life into these songs. Steve brings along the drum machine on a few tracks – something he picked up on his last album, Washington Square Serenade. But it works (on songs like “Lungs” and “Loretta”). We get some bluegrass on “White Freightliner” that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Mountain (his bluegrass album with the Del McCoury Band). There’s the slow and churning blues of “Brand New Companion”, and the beautiful poem that is “(Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria”.

With Townes, Steve Earle pays great tribute to an old friend and mentor. It’s been over a dozen years since Townes Van Zandt passed on at the young age of 52. With this album, Steve keeps his buddy’s memory alive and makes people like me want to seek out more his mentor’s work. I have a couple of Townes albums, but I don’t have 1971’s Delta Momma Blues. Based on “Where I Lead Me”, it’s next on my list…

Where I Lead Me (mp3)

Buy Townes.

After Townes Van Zandt’s death on January 1st, 1997, Steve wrote this song for Townes in Galway, Ireland. It’s been my favorite Steve Earle song since the first time I heard El Corazon that year. Some of the most beautiful words put to song…

“There’s a full moon over Galway Bay tonight / Silver light over green and blue / And every place I travel through, I find / Some kinda sign that you’ve been through”

Ft. Worth Blues (mp3) – from El Corazón

Steve Earle. Letterman. Friday.

Hey Steve Earle fans, watch Letterman tomorrow night (Friday, Sept. 5th). Steve will perform a Warren Zevon tune, “Reconsider Me”, in tribute to the late great Zevon who passed away 5 years ago (Sept. 7th, 2003).

I didn’t know it until tonight, but Earle recorded the song (hear it on YouTube) with Texas band Reckless Kelly for a 2004 tribute album, ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon’…

I haven’t posted this one since the first couple months of this blog. It’s only my favorite Steve Earle live track everrr!

Steve Earle – Halo ‘Round the Moon (mp3)  – live in Sweden I believe?