Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Faith's Review & Expectation" - Sandra McCracken

Who knew “Amazing Grace” had such a groove hidden in it for all these years?

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that everyone has heard “Amazing Grace” at some point in their life. Whether it’s been during a church service, a funeral, Star Trek II or last week’s Lost preview, the melody has become ingrained in the human psyche. It only takes those few opening notes to recognize it and to be gripped by it. Long ago “Amazing Grace” became the “go to” song to use whenever there is a death or a tragedy or anything else that is due solemn reflection. I must admit, it works pretty well too. Bonus points if it’s played on bagpipes. However, if you look at the circumstances behind the hymn, I’m not sure that a “hallowed remembrance” alone was the author’s primary intention. John Newton, a slave ship captain turned minister, penned the poem “Faith’s Review And Expectation” in 1772 and it eventually became known as “Amazing Grace” due to it’s opening line. As if dealing in human trafficking weren’t shameful enough, he was also notoriously known to be one of the most obscene and profane men among sailors, which is saying a lot! But like any man who has been given a taste of redemption, he changed his life into one of ministry and service. When he wrote, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” he truly understood the depth of both his wretchedness and God’s grace. Although I didn’t exactly understand the full weight of this concept when I sang it as a kid, my adult eyes are being opened more and more every day to both sides of the equation. Which brings me to my point that I don’t think it should just be a somber, meditative song. It should be a joyful, upbeat acknowledgment of what we’ve been brought out of and what we have been adopted in to.

Sandra McCracken really captures this rejoicing spirit in “Faith’s Review & Expectation” off her newest hymns project, In Feast Or Fallow. It’s hard to listen to her version of the age old classic without smiling, singing along and even dancing a little bit. The timeless words feel somehow brand new as they are sung over a happy backdrop of acoustic guitar, drums, tambourine, hand claps, organ, ukulele and a bass line that would make Paul McCartney proud. Sandra proves that you don’t have to have written the lyrics to a song to put your own stamp on it as she uses the music to magnify the gladness found in the lyrics and really draws out the writer’s emphasis on grace and redemption. This is by far my favorite version of the hymn and has gotten me really excited for the whole project. In Feast Or Fallow will be released on April 27 and is currently available for pre-order on her website and on On this website you can also stream each song from the new release and from her last hymns project, The Builder And The Architect, get her thoughts on every track off both releases and find additional articles and links regarding hymns and the current community of hymn writers. I highly recommend you spend some time on this website because it’s not everyday that an artist offers so many resources and opens themselves up about their art like Sandra does.

"Faith's Review & Expectation" - Sandra McCracken (In Feast Or Fallow)

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Only In Dreams" - Weezer

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. It’s that age old tale of boy meets band, boy spends everyday with band, boy falls in love with band, band suddenly changes mind and breaks boy’s heart. I know it happens everyday, but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I really thought Weezer and I had something special going. Was I a fool to think it would last? Grab a box of tissues and some Haagen-Dazs and let me tell you what really happened.

It started out innocently enough. Weezer released their first album in 1994 and I really liked what I was hearing from them on the radio. As much as I love bands like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, hearing “Buddy Holly” sandwiched between them was like a fun, refreshing shower from all that sludgy goodness. Then I saw the hilariously awesome video for “Buddy Holly” and I thought, “wait a second…these guys are pretty geeky…and I am pretty geeky too…this might just be crazy enough to work.” It all came to a head that magical night in the cd aisle at Target when I saw the album. The cover consisted of a monochrome background, a simple font for the band name and four guys dressed like dorky thrift store workers. No frills, nothing flashy; just like me.

When I got home I went to my room and put the cd on. From that first acoustic riff transition into full band blast of “My Name Is Jonas” I somehow knew that I was on to something special, something different. Song after song came flooding out of my speakers like a letter addressed only to me. These guys didn’t fit in and didn’t always get the girl, but they made some of the best music I had ever heard. The bright, distorted guitar tones were so different than the muddy, dropped D sounds we were hearing a lot of at the time. They had guitar solos you could sing along to and some of the best vocal harmonies this side of The Beatles. These guys wrote smart because their melodies and chord structures were intricate but still ridiculously catchy. Even if you didn’t want to analyze one note or sound, they were just fun to listen to. However, in the initial dance of “wooment” you can be blind to the warning signs. I am a BIG liner note guy and the fact that Weezer’s cd booklet opened up to just a picture of their garage instead of lyrics should’ve been a red flag for me. But I didn’t see it. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. I was already in too deep.

Around that time you could’ve asked me who my favorite band was and I would’ve told you The Beatles with Weezer coming in at a VERY CLOSE second. I seriously listened to that album everyday for a pretty long time. There was not a dud in the bunch. 10 songs of fuzzy, alternative greatness with one of the best album closers ever, “Only In Dreams.” If you hung out with me for any length of time, you were subjected, nay, privileged to hear the album over and over again. When they released their next album, Pinkerton, in 1996, my dad took me to Blockbuster Music the day it came out to get it. I was smitten all over again. Although the production was a little grittier and the lyrics had a little more angst in them, all the important Weezeresque ingredients were still there. I now had two milestonic love letters to have and to hold. Little did I know, things were about to change.

I’ll condense this next part because it gets pretty ugly. Between Weezer’s two albums, bassist Matt Sharp started a band called The Rentals and they released an album. After touring behind Pinkerton, internal band strife caused Matt to leave Weezer and pursue The Rentals full time. Weezer dropped off the map. Everybody started their own little side projects and forgot about me. They stopped returning my phone calls. I was heartbroken. In 2001 Weezer tried to get me back by reforming and releasing a new album, but this was not the Weezer I had grown to love. Gone were the intelligent, emotional lyrics. Gone were the musical originalities and melodic left hand turns. Gone was Matt’s bouncy bass and falsetto BGV’s. Sure, there were signs of the old Weezer on a few of the tracks but it was just a glimmer of what we once had. Amanda and I saw them in concert in 2002 and as much as I really enjoyed the concert, it was bittersweet. They tried to remind me of the good times by playing a lot of the older stuff and I’ll admit it started to work. I was willing to let them back in. Make Believe came out in 2005 and I started to believe in us again. However, 2008 was tough year for Weezer and I. Although we took a bit of a step back with the rapping and the horrible lyrical shift on The Red Album, they also released a return to glory six song EP, Christmas With Weezer and I weakened. We were this close. Then Raditude happened. It is so bad that words have not yet been invented to convey both it’s hideousness and my disgust. It was the final nail in the coffin, the straw that broke the camel’s back and any other clich├ęs you can think of. Barring Matt returning and a lyrical reevaluation by Rivers, the door is closed and we are done.

We’ll always have the first two albums and the memories though so let’s end on a happy note. If you somehow luck out with producing a solid album of track by track perfection, you really have to go out with a bang. “Only In Dreams” is one of those epic, building, bombastic thrill rides that transforms a song into an actual experience. Every musician should take note because “Only In Dreams” is how you end an album. If I never see you again Weezer, have a nice life.

"Only In Dreams" - Weezer (Weezer aka The Blue Album)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Rainy Days And Mondays" - Paul Williams

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Songwriters can usually be split into three camps; those who just write, those who write and perform, and those who write and wish they could perform. There have been many songwriters in that last camp whose great songs have gone much further than they themselves ever did as an artist. For any number of reasons, they didn’t make as big of a splash performing as their songs made being performed by other bands. There seemed to be no shortage of these cats in the 70’s.

Paul Williams is an incredible songwriter and released about 15 albums in the 70’s, has a ton of movie soundtrack cuts, acted in many, many movies and appeared on more than 20 TV shows, and I bet you’ve never heard of him. However, I guarantee you know and love some of the songs he has written that have been performed by other people. Three Dog Night had success with “(Just An) Old Fashioned Love Song”. The Carpenters had two big hits with his “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” (which I am pretty partial to since Amanda sang it at our wedding). The Monkees, Barbara Streisand, the theme to “The Love Boat”, the list goes on and on! Perhaps his greatest lyrical achievement was not even sung by a human though. Well, technically it was but just go with me here. Paul gave the world the gem that is “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie. Our heads may hear Kermit, but our hearts will always have Paul to thank.

"Rainy Days and Mondays" - Paul Williams (Here Comes Inspiration)

"Rainbow Connection" - Kermit The Frog (The Muppet Movie Soundtrack)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Rock 'N' Roll Lifestyle" - Cake

Some songs just take you back. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake takes me back to the summer of 1994 and my days as a Kroger bag boy. We had a Blockbuster Music right next door and I spent every work break at their listening station. This was a bank of chairs and cd players and you could pull anything off the shelves to listen to. I blew that place up and I know they got sick of seeing me two or three times a day for the whole summer. Motorcade Of Generosity was practically a daily selection for me. I had never heard a band like Cake before. Overdriven 3/4 acoustic guitars, noodley electric guitar runs, hilarious lyrics, vocals that seamlessly shifted between smooth and spazzy and mariachi horns! Beneath it all was some really great songs too! Even after I bought it with my first week’s tip money, I still listened to it at the listening station pretty regularly because it put me in such a good mood for the rest of my shift.

I learned how to play “Rock ‘N’ Roll Lifestyle” on my guitar pretty quickly and would whip it out every chance I got. Even my friends who hadn’t heard of Cake would ask me to play it because it was so catchy and fun to sing along to. In fact, when I was in 10th grade the band I was in played a 50’s-60’s sock-hop themed birthday party for a friend of ours and they asked me to play it. It sounded kinda funny played along side “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Happy Together” but it somehow worked. I’m pretty sure the adults that were there enjoyed the tongue in cheek lyrics too. Cake can still instantly put me in a good mood and transport me back to a time where I looked pretty darn smokin' in some khaki shorts, a white polo shirt and my Kroger name tag. Will that be paper or plastic, ma’am?

"Rock 'N' Roll Lifestyle" - Cake (Motorcade Of Generosity)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Call Me" - Blondie

When you think of Blondie, new wavey, dancey, reggae, quasi-rapping images usually come to mind. Don’t be fooled though, they knew how to rock it out too! With her unique voice and sassy attitude, Debbie Harry was made to front a band. She lets into it in “Call Me” and I absolutely love the guitar riff too! It’s one of those pulsing songs that gets you in the mood to do something, anything as soon as it comes on. It’s great music for driving or working out but not so great for sitting at your desk at work because it’ll make you want to flip your desk or push the copier over.

Steve Craig’s “House Of Retro Pleasure” radio show used to play Blondie all the time and I grew to really love them, especially “Call Me”. When I worked as a grill cook my friend Nathan and I would accompany the songs on the radio with whatever utensils we had around at the time. I played a mean double spatula and flat top grill drum part to “Call Me” and you should've heard Nathan’s sauce bowl bongos. Why we never put out a remix album I’ll never know!

"Call Me” was from the bygone era when people would write songs specifically for movie soundtracks instead of just rehashing album cuts. If you wanted the song, the soundtrack was the only place you could get it. In this case, the soundtrack was for “American Gigolo” with Richard Gere. Ugh. Save yourself the misery, don’t watch the movie and just get the track off iTunes or Blondie’s Autoamerican reissue.

"Call Me" - Blondie (American Gigolo Soundtrack)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Poison & Wine" - The Civil Wars

Amanda and I are going to see The Civil Wars this Friday night and I’m pretty stoked. The Civil Wars is a duo comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White. Joy Williams enjoyed some success as a solo artist in the CCM industry in the early 2000’s and has since focused on songwriting. John Paul White’s songs have been picked up by a bunch of country artists and he’s released a solo album as well. Together, they create a really smooth, laid-back but vocally soaring sound that is fun to chill out to. You can download their live album for free from their website, or on Noisetrade. Again, it's free so give it a shot! Also, I’ve heard them do some cool covers of Leonard Cohen, Sade and The Romantics, so they’ve got good taste!

“Poison & Wine” is a great 2 voice, 2 instrument song. The uncluttered arrangement of Joy’s piano and John Paul’s guitar create a subtle yet sturdy foundation for their vocals to really join together and shine. I really like the lyrics too. I’m a sucker for lines that juxtapose conflicting ideas beside each other to create an interesting and ironic symmetry. (Wow, I promise I’m far less pretentious than that sentence would have you believe.) Having them trade lines in the verses really drives the contradictions home. His line, “You only know what I want you to” followed by her line, “I know everything you don’t want me to” is both simple and genius. My favorite line is at the end of the second verse: “I don’t have a choice but I still choose you.” That one gets me every time. My heart decided long, long ago that Amanda was the only one for me, period, end of story; but it’s still fun to wake up every morning and have my head say this is the girl I truly want to spend every moment with. Although there is no choice to be made, I’ll continue to make the same one everyday.

"Poison & Wine" - The Civil Wars (Live at Eddie's Attic)

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Bottom Of The World" - Tom Waits

Ah yes, that voice. That gravelly, yet soothing, gin-soaked sound. Part velvet, part rusty car parts, Tom Waits has a voice that is uniquely and totally “him”. Initially it may not be your cup o’ tea, but I guarantee that if given the chance, it will grow on you. No one can weave a story like him either. His songs and monologues are filled with places, characters and situations that are somehow immediately visible in your mind. Singing mostly about the seedy, outcast, and downtrodden parts of society, he practically creates his own world that you can scarily find yourself in, whether you want to or not. Plus, he can write a train song like few others can so he’s got my vote. People often try to imitate the man, but there is only one Tom Waits.

Tom’s songwriting approach is usually to take a bunch of ugly ingredients and create something beautiful out of it. Not that the ingredients themselves always transform, but that through their mixture and experience, meaningful things rise to the top. Truth, redemption, love, learning and perspective are available for the song’s characters and the listener both. “Bottom Of The World” may be one of the best examples of a really sad song that is still somehow ridiculously beautiful. Take the first verse:

My daddy told me looking back

The best friend you'll have is a railroad track

So when I was 13 I said I'm rolling my own

And I'm leaving Missouri and I'm never coming home

You can picture this guy as plain as day. Brash, impulsive, regretful. Ever been there? Not only did he create an understandable character, he created a relatable character. Believe me, it’s easier said than done. The song goes on to describe what life has handed him; a surly cast of acquaintances, sitting around a campfire with a busted nose, and just plain being “lost at the bottom of the world.” So where’s the beauty come in you ask? Does he meet a pretty girl who straightens him out? Does he wise up and find his way home? Nope. In all the disappointment and sorrow lies one of the greatest descriptions of God I’ve ever heard in a song that wasn’t found in a hymnal. The final verse says:

God’s green hair is where I slept last

He balanced a diamond on a blade of grass

Now I woke me up with a cardinal bird

And when I wanna talk He hangs on every word

This isn’t a prodigal son story because the man doesn’t turn from his ways and head back home. He’s still right in the thick of the mess he has made. But he’s not there alone. God is there too, present and listening. God doesn’t have a responsibility to just magically make everything better, but He does promise that He is always with us and is always available to us. When you’re feeling lost at the bottom of the world, what better thing could you ask for?

"Bottom Of The World" - Tom Waits (Orphans)

As a side note, I’m not sure what the first Tom Waits song I ever heard was, but I do remember the first time I saw him. One of favorite movies growing up was “The Outsiders” and Tom had a quick scene as bar owner Buck Merrill. I love it when someone you love from one world pops up in another. Random coolness is the best kind!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

One Man, Many Bands - Aaron Sprinkle

I respect and enjoy a ton of musicians but there are some folks that I just hold up a lot higher than everyone else. Aaron Sprinkle is definitely one of those people. Lucky for me, the man has been consistently putting out music for the last 20 years and shows no signs of slowing down! Hailing from Seattle, Aaron is a singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer/musical genius/studio wizard who is immensely creative and ridiculously talented. Whether it’s his vast production resume or the different bands he has been in over the years, his Midas touch is felt throughout each project. The man IS music. Here’s a quick rundown of the bands he has been in.

Poor Old Lu – Poor Old Lu was birthed out of a band called BellBangVilla when Aaron was in high school. BellBangVilla had one release, In Love with the Greenery, but they eventually became Poor Old Lu when Aaron’s brother Jesse joined up to play drums. Poor Old Lu was a big fixture in the Christian alternative scene of the 90’s and released 7 full lengths and an EP during their career. My first exposure to them was in 1994 when I bought their album Sin simply because I thought the cover looked cool. That serendipitous move was the start of becoming a life long fan of Aaron’s work. His guitar playing and sense of melody, even as a teenager, was awesome and very inspiring. Aaron wasn’t the singer, but when I heard him sing lead on a track called “Ring True” I wondered why he wasn’t. No offense to Scott, but something in Aaron’s voice hooked me. I was lucky enough to catch Poor Old Lu in concert in 1995, which was a big deal for me since they didn’t make it to the Southeast very much. They broke up in 1996 and briefly reformed in 2002. Not only were they an awesome band, they named themselves from a line in the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which scored some nerd points with me!

"Ring True" - Poor Old Lu (Sin)

Rose Blossom Punch – While still in Poor Old Lu, Aaron released a couple of songs under the name Rose Blossom Punch on some Tooth and Nail Records compilations. When Poor Old Lu officially broke up, he was able to work on Rose Blossom Punch full time. They released Ephemere in 1997 but label troubles caused the band to fizzle out and their next (and final) release, Sorry To Disappoint You, was delayed for a while but eventually showed up as a digital only release in 2000. I really liked the potential in Rose Blossom Punch but they never really had a chance to get off the ground.

"A Step In The Dark" - Rose Blossom Punch (Ephemere)

Solo – Freeing himself from the constraints of a band apparently agreed with Aaron. He released his first solo album, Moontraveler, in 1999 and I was blown away. Marriage, a kid and life in general allowed his songwriting to somehow become even more amazing than what it already was. Around this time I was also experiencing some life shifts like going to college, getting married and trying to finding a real job, so his albums were really resonating with me on a lot of levels. His song “Really Something” is one of my favorites and lines as simple as “some days I actually forget that this is really something, one smile from you and that is it, this is really something”, were very impactful to this immature guy trying to figure out how to be an attentive, loving husband. In fact, I’m still learning so they continue to stir inside me and probably will for a long time to come. I got to see Aaron perform by himself last summer when he was in town to produce The Almost’s newest record. Amanda and I were both so incredibly stoked to see him and he didn’t disappoint. I can only hope that I’ll be lucky enough to see him play again sometime. Playing all the instruments except drums, Aaron has put out 5 full length albums and one stellar EP. Since there are no worries about breaking up as a solo artist, hopefully there will be even more releases down the road.

"Really Something" - Aaron Sprinkle (Bareface)

Fair – Aaron eventually got the itch to be in a band again and Fair was formed in 2005. Fair is a little more pop-based than his previous bands, but fear not, they still rock. It’s really good to hear Aaron singing over some crunching power chords again and he also sounds great on their airier, atmospheric keys-based stuff. Fair just released their newest album, Disappearing World, last month and it’s another winner. A new album usually means a new tour and if so, hopefully they will find their way to this side of the continent.

"One Last Time" - Fair (Disappearing World)

Besides his duties in Fair and working on solo stuff, Aaron always seems to be in the studio producing somebody. He is the “in house” producer for Tooth and Nail Records and mostly works out of Compound Studios in Seattle. Any band would be lucky to work with him and those that do end up with something better than what they started out with. I can’t say enough good things about him so just do me a favor and go check him out! If you’re a fan of good music, you’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"(F)Lannigan's Ball" - Dropkick Murphys

Happy St. Patty’s Day to you and yours! Although the time is ALWAYS right, there is no better day to enjoy some good ol’ celtic punk. There are many bands you could choose from but some of my favorites are The Pogues, Flatfoot 56, Flogging Molly and the green apple of my eye, Dropkick Murphys. Man, no matter how sad, down, tired or low you could be feeling, these boys will pick you right up and get you dancing! I first heard Dropkick Murphys’ song “Road of the Righteous” my senior year of high school. Knowing that Lars Frederiksen from Rancid produced their first album, Do or Die, was a good enough endorsement for me to pick it up. I really liked them and this was before they had even added the bagpipes, accordion, and mandolin that would play so prominently into their next few albums. When Amanda and I took a vacation to Boston in March of 2008 I walked the 8 blocks from the subway station in the freezing cold just to snap a picture of the Dropkick Murphys mural seen on the cover of their Sing Loud, Sing Proud album. I was super sick but it was one of those musical monuments that I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see in person. It was well worth it!

A track that perfectly encapsulates all things Dropkick would be “(F)Lannigan’s Ball” from their Meanest Of Times album. “Lanigan’s Ball” is an old Irish pub song about a fancy dancing party that ends up in a total ruckus. Dropkick Murphys changed a lot of the lyrics but the overall theme of the song is the same; we’re having a party, an accident happens, things escalates, chaos ensues. If the singing of a traditional Irish song backed by bagpipes and mandolin isn’t green enough for you, they are also joined by Ronnie Drew and Spider Stacy on the track. Ronnie spent years in the Irish folk group The Dubliners and Spider sings and plays tin whistle in The Pogues. Dropkick Murphys are guaranteed to get your blood pumping AND to turn it green! Erin Go Bragh!

"(F)Lannigan's Ball" - Dropkick Murphys (The Meanest Of Times)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"I Only Said" - My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine is one of those bands that starts something no one else is really doing and then bands who imitate it usually get to enjoy more success. They released two albums in the late 80’s and early 90’s and if you’ve ever heard the term shoegaze or noise pop it was probably applied to

My Bloody Valentine first. Using massive amounts of distortion, reverb and other guitar effects, Kevin Shields carved a different path of guitar playing. One of his signatures was holding the tremolo arm of the guitar while he was strumming, which created a very loose, swimmy, not exactly out of tune but not exactly in tune way of playing. This was combined with lo-fi production attitudes and buried, layered vocals to create a sound that was very unique to them.

I first heard of My Bloody Valentine by tuning into the late night DJs on Georgia Tech’s college radio station, 91.1 WREK in Atlanta. I never knew what My Bloody Valentine were singing or what the names of their songs were, but you would eventually get to a point where you knew it was them because they were so original. College DJs aren’t really known for mentioning song names but I remember the album title Loveless being mentioned over and over again. My parents would’ve never bought me an album by a band named My Bloody Valentine so I had to try to tape their songs off the radio. For years I only had 3 of their songs, “When You Sleep”, “I Only Said” and “Soon” on a bootleg cassette tape. Eventually I was able to pick up the full Loveless album in the mid 90’s after I got my first job. By this time though, other bands were copying them so they didn’t sounds as fresh to my ears as they deserved. Over the years though I have been able to see what they were doing in context with what was going on around them and I think it’s a pretty cool thing to see trailblazers unafraid to do their own thing. I have also learned a lot about their unique studio production techniques and even if you don’t like them, there is a lot that can be learned from their avant-garde approaches. My Bloody Valentine reformed in 2007 to play some shows but so far no new albums have surfaced.

"I Only Said" - My Bloody Valentine (Loveless)

For any gearheads out there, here is Kevin’s pedalboard from his most recent shows:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Clampdown" - The Clash

For most punk fans, the late 70's are the high water mark and without question The Clash has a lot to do with it. They released 3 full length albums and 2 EPs in the 70's and London Calling, released in December of 1979, fittingly slammed the door shut on the decade. This double album still contained the UK punk attitudes found on their earlier releases, but it also showcased some new styles and sounds that signaled their transition into the 80's. They messed around with reggae, ska, and rockabilly and Joe Strummer's non-conformist, anti-cookie cutter lyrics are just as biting and inspiring as they ever were. To call London Calling a classic album is a massive understatement, but still true nonetheless.

I'm sure I saw a Clash video here or there on MTV as a kid but I really got to know them through 99X, the alternative radio station I grew up on. 99X always played their bigger hits like "Rock The Casbah", "London Calling" and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" but one of the DJs, Steve Craig, would play anything and everything by them. (As a side note, I can't accurately describe how big of an impact Steve Craig had on my musical evolution growing up. He had the coolest radio show called "The House Of Retro Pleasure" that played alternative, punk and new wave songs from the 70's and 80's and he is individually responsible for turning me on to so many cool bands over the years. I truly feel grateful and lucky for being able to listen to him for so many years and I'm sure his name will come up on this blog over and over again.) London Calling got a lot of love on 99X and "Clampdown" was no exception.

"Clampdown" is basically a call to arms to not settle for following the path that someone else has laid out for you. All through your life, but especially when you are growing up, people seem to have a lot of ideas and advice regarding what you "should" do and what you are "supposed" to accomplish. They'll have you believe that falling in line with the status quo will make everything work out fine. Pursue the "American Dream", get a job where your dad worked, don't ask questions, vote for your parent's political party and get to heaven on your grandmother's prayers. When you are not thinking for yourself is when you'll be "working for the clampdown". If you end up doing everything people told you to do, that would be a pretty boring, uneventful, unlived life. Who wants that? It's okay to have questions and to formulate your own individual thoughts about how you see, feel, live and experience life. Looking back, I have always seemed to ask the "why" questions. When I was a kid, I did it from an annoying, immature place. As I have grown up though, I have seen the "why" turn into a desire to know the motivation and reasoning for doing or feeling something and it has allowed me to understand and own my convictions, opinions, experiences and ideas. I'd like to think The Clash has played a small part in that. At minimum, they at least provide a nice soundtrack for my continuing journey.

"Clampdown" - The Clash (London Calling)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Ground On Down" - Ben Harper

My sister started her first semester of college at West Georgia University in the fall of 1994. Never one to let a learning opportunity go by, I gained 2 important insights while helping her move in during her first day on campus. First, if you are lucky enough to be selected to go get the mini-fridge from campus housing, take a vehicle. Sure, the mini-fridge isn't that heavy during short distances, but a 4 block trip on foot can make that thing feel like it came fully loaded with an entire semester's supply of ramen noodles and Yoo-Hoo. Second, if a welcome wagon is handing out pamphlets and a free cassette tape, ALWAYS take it! It doesn't matter if you have heard of everyone on it; just grab it, decline the credit card application and keep moving.

After we finished moving her in, I crashed back in the car and loaded my new compilation into my Walkman to see what was on it. Reading over the liner notes I discovered some new band names like Material Issue, Spearhead and someone who would become one of my favorites over the years, Ben Harper. His offering for the sampler was "Ground On Down" off of Fight For Your Mind and I was not prepared for the awesomeness that erupted from my headphones.

The track opens with what sounds like an other-worldly slide guitar called a weissenborn. Not too many people play them and NOBODY plays them like Ben Harper. He sounds like Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman and Robert Johnson rolled together, stuffed with firecrackers, lit on fire and thrown into a sea of gasoline. Absolutely electrifying and fun to listen to! For "Ground On Down" he plays around with a few chords and then lays into a killer groove that you can't help but move along to. His band, especially his bass player, create so much funk dripping out of your speakers that you may feel the need to wipe them down after the song is done. Seriously, it's that thick. I don't know how but somehow he also manages to sing while playing like a beautiful, maniac, genius, freak boy as well. It's quite a sight to behold.

He's not just gifted musically though. He is a great songwriter and his lyrics are filled with meaningful examples of love, struggle, empowerment, vulnerability, spirituality and intelligence. Take this line from "Ground On Down" for example: "Life is short and if you're looking for extension with your time you had best do well. 'Cause there's good deeds and there's good intentions and they're as far apart as heaven and hell." Man, song or sermon? You could chew on those thoughts for a while and still not get to all the layers! Ben Harper can rock your mind, your body, and your heart and his songs will go as deep as you let them. So consider yourself warned! He'll get you dancing, thinking, loving, caring and doing something about things before you know what hit you!

"Ground On Down" - Ben Harper (Fight For Your Mind)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Finest Worksong" - R.E.M.

For my birthday my awesome friends Vic and Becca got me a gift certificate to Grimey's, my favorite record store in Nashville. I picked up 3 albums by The Beatles (Revolver, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be), Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual and R.E.M.'s Document. Needless to say, there was much rejoicing.

My love for R.E.M. can be traced back to one of Atlanta's great college-run radio stations, Georgia State University's 88.5 (WRAS). As a kid, I thought it was pretty cool to be listening to a college radio station and hearing things that wouldn't make it to Top 40 radio and barely blipped on MTV's radar. I'm sure I only started listening to it because I heard some older kids talk about it and I wanted to be cool like them, but I eventually got hooked. College radio stations are like a melting pot and sometimes tuning in would land you on some of the weirdest smooth jazz, electronica or blues music you could ever hear. Lucky for me though, most of the late night DJs were into alternative and punk music. 88.5 opened up a world full of DIY attitudes, lo-fi production, clever lyrics, distorted guitars, and unconventional song structures that I never knew existed. I wasn't always sure what I was listening to, but I was sure that I connected with it and I liked it. Being from Athens, R.E.M. got a lot of love on 88.5 and as a result, I got exposed to an incredible band during their, and my, early years.

Document is R.E.M.'s fifth album and was released in 1987. Although I never owned an R.E.M. album until 1991's Out Of Time, I got to know pretty much all of Document because 88.5 played singles and album cuts. Having a blank tape always cued up to record eventually got me most of the songs I wanted! One of the tracks that has always stuck with me is "Finest Worksong" and I think it's a classic album opener. As soon as that opening snare hits, I'm pumped and ready to go. Like most R.E.M. songs, I have no idea what Michael Stipe is singing about, but on this one he's at least understandable enough to sing along with. As an added bonus, the musical groove is ridiculously sick.

Being the unabashed dork that I am, I used to make my parents listen to this song whenever one of them would drive me to my first job as a Kroger bag boy. For some reason, I remember feeling that the two were linked and that I was somehow joining myself to some sort of intellectual statement on employment and work ethic. I now believe that the statement I was making was "yes, I am in fact king of all dorks." However, I still think its fun to sing the line "I listen to the finest worksong" WHILE listening to the "Finest Worksong" and I like to think it was intentionally written for everyone to smirk to themselves during that moment.

"Finest Worksong" - R.E.M. (Document)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me!

Thanks to my lovely I have had an incredible 30th birthday! Not only has she made me feel special for just being born, she threw me an awesome party last night with friends and family and she taught a master class in giving presents! I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after opening the remastered MONO box set of The Beatles!!!! WHAT?!?!? As if she had to give me anything else, she also got me their 3 remastered stereo only albums (

Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be) a Gaslight Anthem t-shirt and a Geronimo Jackson t-shirt. I still have no idea how I was lucky enough to get this girl! She was also a little birdie in her parents ear that scored me a Bruce Springsteen poster, a Beatles poster, another Gaslight Anthem t-shirt, and a Tumbledown t-shirt from them. Throw in $75 bucks to Amazon from her brother and sisters and I just don't know what to do with myself. I am so blessed to have people who love me and want to let me know it! Before her parents headed back home this morning we dropped by the Franklin Antique Market and I picked up some vinyl: Johnny Cash's At San Quentin, Paul Simon's Graceland and Hank Williams' Take These Chains From My Heart 10" single from 1953! It has been quite the incredible birthday for sure! Here's two of my favorite birthday-themed songs to celebrate the festivities!

"Birthday" - The Beatles (The Beatles)

"Happy Birthday" - Altered Images (Happy Birthday)

Friday, March 5, 2010

"29" - Gin Blossoms

So today is my last day as a 29 year old. That’s right, tomorrow is the big 3-0 for me! To be honest, I’m pretty excited about it! Not in a denial, “no-I’m-really-okay-I-just-have-always-wanted-a-convertible” way; but in a “man, life is really good” way. As much as that sounds like a cheesy Carnival Cruise Lines commercial, my life is ACTUALLY really good! God has blessed me with a wife that is far more hot, encouraging, funny, supportive and caring than I could ever deserve. I’ve got great friends, an awesome church, and a killer job. I get to watch Amanda pursue her calling in nursing school and we’re even building a brand new house. Lest you think I’m bragging, I’m just trying to say that God is doing far too much for me to worry about entering into a new decade of age. I may have to check a different box on some governmental forms now but I promise to be smiling as I do it. Let’s just hope my dentures don’t fall out when I do! Badoom ching!

I was 12 when I got Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience. In what would become a recurring theme over the years, I had to work pretty hard to convince my mom to buy it because she didn’t like the title. “Why would someone sing about a miserable experience and why would you want to listen to it?” she would ask me. Lucky for me, Gin Blossoms were of the jangly alternative variety so all I had to do was let her hear the upbeat tracks like “Hey Jealousy” and “Allison Road” and she let up. In an era filled with sludgy, detuned guitar riffs and Cookie Monster vocals, Gin Blossoms were a great palette cleanser. They were carrying on what R.E.M., Guadalcanal Diary and Camper Van Beethoven were doing in the 80’s (and of course what The Beatles and The Byrds were doing in the 60’s) and adding their own “occasionally abrasive” touch to it. New Miserable Experience was less formulaic than what was on the radio at the time, but it still managed to have some hits.

“29” ended up being one of my favorite tracks off the album. It is essentially a song about getting older and not exactly being thrilled about where you are currently at. I can distinctly remember being 12 and listening to this song while sitting on my bed and wondering what I would be like at 29. What’s weird is that it wasn’t an intentional, list-making, “this is what I want to have accomplished and what I want to be” kind of wondering though. It was a “come what may” wondering, like I had no say in the matter and I was just curious as to how things would turn out. It was as if I could’ve just had a snapshot and seen how things were going to be for me, good and bad, and I’d have been satisfied. I think the reason there was no planning going on was that 29 seemed so far off to me. But what would you expect? At 12, I still had 17 more years before I turned 29 and that was longer than I had been alive at that point. The pure, uncalculated curiosity was so real to me though and I can still remember that specific feeling. At the time, the line “only time will tell if wishing wells will bring us anything” stood out to me as optimistic and containing a “fingers crossed” hopefulness. Now I hear it as almost a regretful, “let’s hope there’s something magical around the bend because what I’ve got so far isn’t looking so good” retrospection. I hear it now as more looking back than looking forward. Although I still really enjoy listening to the song, I can’t say that I relate to it any longer and I’m totally okay with that. If my 12 year old self could’ve been shown a snapshot of now, I’m sure I would’ve had the biggest smile in the world knowing things turned out as awesome as the have.

"29" - Gin Blossoms (New Miserable Experience)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Call In Sick" - MxPx

So I've been ridiculously sick the past few days and haven't felt like doing much of anything, including blogging as you can see. I'm still feeling pretty gross but I wanted to get something up here. MxPx is easily one of my hands down, all-time favorite bands. I bought their first full-length, Pokinatcha, when I was 14 and it opened up something in me. I felt like I was into something special, something that no one else I knew had. I'll do a more full length post on MxPx sometime in the future but here's the cliffnotes. I've grown up with MxPx and I love pretty much everything they have put out. They always release lots of material for their fans and they have recorded a slew of Christmas songs. They are probably the band that I have seen the most times in concert over the years. We go way back and our future is looking pretty good too!

In honor of my congested, drippy, achey soreness, here's "Call In Sick" from Panic.

"Call In Sick" - MxPx (Panic)