Thursday, April 29, 2010

"I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" - Arctic Monkeys

Some songs just make you want to dance and whether you actually can or not is completely beside the point. In elementary school I went through somewhat of a break dancer phase with my own cardboard and everything. It might've just been that I liked to watch Beat Street or Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo alot but whatever, I thought I could take Poppin' Taco any day of the week. These days though, I would be grateful to actually have two left feet instead of the two left turns I'm walking around on. However, certain songs can make my lack of dancefloor prowess rendered null and void and allow me to return to my younger, funkier self.

Sure, James Brown, Michael Jackson and all the Motown gang can get anyone moving, but making rock-based dance music is no small feat. Arctic Monkeys have taken the traditional guitar, bass and drums and pulled them from the garage into the club. The drums sounds like punk, the bass is moving all over the place and the guitars are playing lines that sound like they should be coming from a Moog or a horn section. On paper it shouldn’t work as well as it does, but they pull it off. They bounce between rock and dance without ever leaning too heavy into one over the other. I can’t imagine how fun and sweaty a live show of theirs would be but I sure do love cranking them when I need a full body pick-me-up.

Listen for the shout out to Duran Duran (another band who tried to fuse rock and dance, albeit in a distinctly 80’s way) in my favorite song of theirs, “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” off their first record.

"I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" - Arctic Monkeys (Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Tip Of My Tongue" - The Civil Wars

When Amanda and I went to see The Civil Wars back in March, I was incredibly impressed with what I heard. I was already pretty familiar with them due to multiple spins of a live recording of theirs that they were offering on their website, but actually hearing it in person was something else. Two voices, one guitar and the occasional piano somehow combined to fill all the spaces usually reserved for a full band. Lots of people sing together but I haven't heard many people sing together as well as Joy Williams and John Paul White do, especially live. They played some great laid back covers of "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, "I Want You Back" by The Jackson Five, and "Talking In Your Sleep" by The Romantics and even introduced a new song called "Barton Hollow" that was played on an incredible dobro.

"Tip Of My Tongue" is a really beautiful song off of their only studio release so far, the 4 track EP "Poison & Wine", that showcases their great vocal interplay and John Paul's tasty finger picked acoustic guitar work. Using great jazz voicings that evoke a Parisian side street cafe, John Paul's acoustic bounces just enough to allow Joy's vocals to dance around on top of it. Just like the last time I wrote about them, the lyrics on this one make me want to turn the Casanova on and get all romantic. I love the opening line, "You're a red string tied to my finger, a little love letter I carry with me." Ain't that the truth! Amanda is so embedded in my subconscious that I find myself saying "remember when..." or "you know how..." while forgetting to actually tell her about specific things. It's like I just assume she is always around because in my heart, she is. Everything somehow reminds me of her or makes me think it would be something she would be interested in. She's my own personal red string around my finger reminding me how lucky I am. I also love the line, "You're my favorite song, always on the tip of my tongue." People I work with or go to school with who have never met Amanda feel like they know her because of how much I talk about her. Spend 5 minutes with me and I guarantee you'll get an Amanda story whether you want one or not!

The Civil Wars are currently in the studio with Charlie Peacock recording their first full length album due out in the next few months. I'm really excited about it and can't wait to hear what they've been cooking up.

"Tip Of My Tongue" - The Civil Wars (Poison & Wine EP)

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Hold Fast, Hold Strong" - My Red Hot Nightmare

Have you ever heard a new song and gotten ridiculously excited about the band? Not just, "this song is pretty cool" but more of "YES! I've been waiting to hear a band like this for a long time, when's the album coming out and how do I start a fan club!" This was my reaction to hearing My Red Hot Nightmare for the first time. Punk rock with killer hooks, gritty guitar tones and sneering vocals make me a very happy boy. Taking the best parts of The Clash, Rancid, and Dropkick Murphys, My Red Hot Nightmare was loud, exciting and made you want to grab somebody's neck and sing some gang vocals at the top of your lungs.

I was introduced to My Red Hot Nightmare on a compilation album called My Other Band, Volume 1 put out by Mono Vs. Stereo in 2006. It's a pretty cool album concept because it's made up of side project bands of guys who were already doing pretty well in their respective bands; Relient K, Bleach, Audio Adrenaline, and The Supertones. My Red Hot Nightmare was made up of punk journeyman Ethan Luck and Dan Spencer from The Supertones. Their 3 tracks opened the album and jacked me up with anticipation for a full release. But alas, besides a track on a Superdrag compilation album, it wasn't in the cards for My Red Hot Nightmare to exist outside of this album. So sad! There was so much potential in the songs they put out and I really wish something could've happened for them. Ethan is currently drumming for Relient K and also runs Rebel Waltz Recording Company with Dan. If they ever decide to pick up My Red Hot Nightmare again, you can bet I'll be throwing my hat in the ring for fan club president!

"Hold Fast, Hold Strong" - My Red Hot Nightmare (My Other Band, Volume 1)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"I Cut Like A Buffalo" - The Dead Weather

Maybe I watched too much WWF wrestling when I was a kid, but I’ve always loved the idea of entrance music. Having a song that announces your presence and let’s people know what you came to do is a great concept. Sure it'd be weird if music started playing every time you walked into a different room, but I'm sure the awkwardness would transform into awesomeness in no time. Without question, when I was a kid my entrance music would have been “You’re The Best” by Joe Esposito. “You’re The Best” is the song that plays over the All Valley Karate Tournament montage in the first Karate Kid movie. The song contains all of the elements you would look for in a personal anthem. There’s driving music to let everyone know you mean business, there’s empowering lyrics like “never doubt that you’re the one and you can have your dream” and by the time the chorus hits, everyone will be singing along to let you know that you are in fact the best around and despite how things may look, nothing’s gonna ever keep you down. Had this song been cued up during my 4th grade countywide spelling bee, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had to settle for second place.

Currently my choice for entrance music would be “I Cut Like A Buffalo” by The Dead Weather. Man, this song's got everything you could ever need in an entrance song. So powerful, so funky, so in your face that people would have no choice but to pay attention and make way for you. The Dead Weather is Jack White's other, other band. Trading in his signature guitar playing for some impressive drum playing, he really dictates the vibe and flow of The Dead Weather in a commanding way that's not usually found in a drummer. He contributes a lot of his trademark quasi-spoken/rap/howl vocals as well, including taking the lead on "I Cut Like A Buffalo." You can tell he's really having fun playing and singing this song and it comes through in his performance. Impossible logistics aside, having entrance music would be one of the coolest thing's around so it would just make sense to use one of the coolest songs around.

"I Cut Like A Buffalo" - The Dead Weather (Horehound)

The Dead Weather have a new album, Sea Of Cowards, coming out on May 11th and the tracks that I've heard so far are absolutely great! They're still funky and greasy and unpredictable so I can't wait to hear what the whole album is going to sound like.

Just in case you've forgotten of the motivational music nugget that is "You're The Best," allow me to refresh your memory:

"You're The Best" - Joe Esposito (The Karate Kid Soundtrack)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" - Wilco

There’s very few times in life when you are able to understand and actually be a part of a musical revolution as it is happening. Sgt. Pepper’s, Kind Of Blue, Are You Experienced and The Times They Are A-Changin’ were all released way before I was born. I missed London Calling by four months. I was too young to really know the impact of Thriller and The Joshua Tree when they came out. Probably the closest I ever got growing up was when Nevermind was released, but I think I just really enjoyed it more than I knew how much of a game changer it was. However, when Wilco put out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2001, I knew I was finally privy to a musical coup in progress. Wilco had drawn a line in the sand and invited everyone to approach music, song structure and the entire listening experience differently. I gladly accepted the invitation.

For an in-depth look behind the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, you can pick up their excellent DVD, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, but here’s the cliff notes. By 2001, Wilco had released 3 full albums and 2 collaboration albums with Billy Bragg. They were the sweethearts of the alt-country rodeo and they deserved it. Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting was (and still is) a perfect blend of optimism and heartbreak and although the band behind him had a bit of a revolving door thing going on, each member did their part to create an interesting, cohesive sound that was unique to Wilco. While recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco’s label, Reprise Records, experienced some shake-ups that caused the president of Reprise, an ardent Wilco supporter, to be fired. The new president didn’t think Wilco was marketable enough and refused to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Reprise ended up dropping Wilco but surprisingly gave them the masters and the rights to the album. Without a record company, Wilco ended up streaming the album for free on their website. Within a month or so, Wilco was signed to Nonesuch Records, which was pretty cool in itself because Nonesuch and Reprise were both under the same AOL Time Warner umbrella. So in reality, AOL Time Warner paid for Wilco to record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, gave them the rights for free and then bought it back from them.

The importance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shouldn’t be overlooked, but even a casual listen will allow you to understand that there wasn’t anything like it before. Jeff Tweedy’s desire to write intelligent, clever folk songs that could be deconstructed by the band, while also blurring the lines that divide structure from cacophony is fully realized on each and every song off the album. Layers and layers of music and noise blanket each track without ever detracting from the fact that there is an actual song underneath. You could strip everything away, which Jeff Tweedy has done for many solo shows, and play each of the songs on just an acoustic guitar without losing anything. I think that is the key to what makes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot so special and so significant. For all the unconventional sounds and musical freak outs on the album, there are really, really good songs that are holding everything together. The songwriting is so imaginative and the musical foundation remains somehow familiar enough that all of the random things happening on top of the songs can be enjoyed and you can even discover new sounds every time you listen to it. Very rarely does a band create both the depth and the space that Wilco does on this album.

As far as lyrics, I bow my pen and notebook at the throne of Tweedy. Anyone who can write lines like “I would like to salute the ashes of American flags and all the fallen leaves filling up shopping bags” and “I myself have found a real rival in myself, I am hoping for the rearrival of my health” and “I am an American aquarium drinker, I assassin down the avenue” is intent on combining heart and mind, emotion and imagination into the words. Emogination, that’s what I’ll call it. Jeff Tweedy wields emogination like no other. I mean, who uses assassin as a verb? Brilliant! Sure, I don’t know exactly what he means by it, but I can feel what he’s trying to convey because of his incomparable word choices. He will eventually be spoken of in songwriting conversations the same way Bob Dylan and John Lennon are now.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of those albums that everyone should listen to at least once. If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to sit down with the album and let every word, strum, and clang get into you. If you don’t like it on the first listen, it’s okay. A few days later you’ll find yourself humming a song you can’t place or dropping the phrase “you are not my typewriter” into everyday conversations and you will wonder where they came from. You will lie awake at night, wondering why, until you give the album another spin and just like scratching a nagging itch, you’ll feel that joyous release. Most likely though, you’ll dig it the first time around and become a long-term Wilco fan.

"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" - Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sandra McCracken - In Feast Or Fallow (Album Review)

Good or bad, most art is manufactured. I don’t necessarily mean that negatively, I just mean that most artists share the same set of ingredients and processes as they attempt to get to a final result that will hopefully come across as original and honest. It’s like humans. Our genetic makeup is essentially 99.9% the same but every single one of us is still unique from head to toe. Most art shares in this concept. However, there are some artists who approach the creative process as more of a labor and birth. They are intent on bringing into existence something that has always been, but that hasn’t exactly been here with us. Sandra McCracken is just such an artist and she has once again added her voice to the choir of truth and creativity.

Sandra McCracken’s newest album, In Feast Or Fallow, is a great collection of old and new hymns sung against a lush indie-folk backdrop. Like all of Sandra’s releases, the lyrics steal the spotlight of the record. For her hymns projects, Sandra mixes her original compositions with texts that were written centuries ago. One of her gifts lies in the fact that you can’t tell which is which without looking at the liner notes. Take album opener “Petition” for example. Written in the 1700’s by a woman whose fiancĂ© drowned the day before they were to be married, Sandra is somehow able to find herself in the song enough to seamlessly add her own verse. It takes a special talent to be able to successfully bridge a 300 year gap between co-writers, much less do it again and again! Found amongst the older hymn reworkings are Sandra’s own offerings such as the journal-entry intimateness of “Hidden Place.” Written just a few days before her daughter was born, the song feels more like you’ve stumbled upon an overheard conversation. To her credit, Sandra is still able to make this unique set of maternal feelings and confessions relatable and inclusive. For the title track “In Feast Or Fallow,” Sandra is joined by Thad Cockrell and her uber-talented husband Derek Webb. Their three voices blend together amazingly well to tell the story of the seasonal shifts our lives should go through to be able to produce, to pause, and to endure. My favorite track on the album would either have to be “Faith’s Review & Expectation” (which I reviewed HERE) or “Justice Will Roll Down,” a song that strives to move social justice beyond the confines of clichĂ© and looks forward to the making right of all things. The whole song jams and the last verse is enough to cause some church to break out wherever you are. Throughout the album, Sandra is not afraid to ask some hard questions while also resting on the fact that the only answers may be faith, patience and praise. There are even a couple of musical interludes scattered throughout to both offer a moment of reflection and remind us that sometimes even our best words are inadequate expressions.

Sandra gives credit for the musical tone of the album to her husband Derek Webb who produced the album and played all the parts that she didn’t. I must say, I’ve been a huge fan of Derek’s for about 16 years now and he never disappoints. Sandra’s guitar and piano playing is beautifully augmented throughout the album by Derek’s mixture of organic and inorganic musical elements. Banjo lines bounce effortlessly over drum loops, guitars are strummed through atmospheric synths, and live pianos mingle with keyboard samples to create a stunning foundation for the hymns to stand upon. The musical and lyrical elements of the album compliment each other just as much as Derek and Sandra do.

It’s a special moment anytime a person can share themselves enough to make another say “me too.” Whenever this admission can be taken ahold of and replicated into songs, the listener suddenly has a companion for the journey. One that points ahead, walks beside and reminds of grace. I’m happy to take all of that that I can get.

"Justice Will Roll Down" - Sandra McCracken (In Feast Or Fallow)

In Feast Or Fallow is set to be released on April 27th and can be pre-ordered on and

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Record Store Day 2010

A few years back, some really cool people got together and decided that independent record stores were something worth celebrating, protecting and promoting. They made a baby, called it Record Store Day, and gave it to be raised by the people. Many music retailers and fans have gladly accepted the charge and have enthusiastically responded every third Saturday in April since then. Record stores host elaborate parties with in-store concerts, cookouts and festivities. Bands offer really cool, exclusive releases in limited quantities. Fans show up early, stand in long lines and shell out a ton of money, all while smiling from ear to ear. All the ingredients are there for a joyous celebration of all things musical and entrepreneurial.

Well, well, well. Let me tell you about my Record Store Day experience this year. My local, independent musical retailer of choice has always been Grimey’s in Nashville. I love the place! It has a super cool atmosphere, a friendly staff and great in-store events. I was in line by 9:30 and planned to be in and out with my preselected purchases so Amanda and I could run some other errands. She waited patiently in the car as I inched closer and closer to the door to get in. “No problem,” I thought, “as soon as I cross the threshold I’ll just whip in, grab my stuff and whip out.” My jaw dropped as I finally got in. Wall to wall folks, hardly moving, no personal space, and only two cash registers. This was going to take awhile. Don’t get me wrong, this is no fault of Grimey’s at all. They are awesome and set up a killer Record Store Day with all kinds of fun stuff. There was just a ton of people trying to move in all kinds of different directions. It was simply physics gone awry.

My most coveted selection was the re-issue of R.E.M.’s Chronic Town EP on blue vinyl. It originally came out in 1982 and was their first non-single release. By the time I finally weaved my way to the bin they were gone. 0 for 1. My next choice was Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone on clear vinyl. Again, empty bin. 0 for 2. This was not looking good. In order to save money I had only planned on three purchases and my last one was the John Lennon Singles Bag containing three 7” vinyl singles, (“Imagine”, “Watching The Wheels” and “Mother”) some postcards and a poster. I lucked out and got one of the last ones. 1 for 3. I wiped my tears, counted my blessings and headed for the cash register. By “heading” I mean I turned around and stood in another long line. While in this line there started to be a rumbling that another record shop, The Great Escape, was dead. I called them and found out that they had the R.E.M. and Neko Case albums and asked for them to hold them for me. By this time Amanda had texted me that she was going to go ahead and run to Target to get one of the errands out of the way while I waited in line. It sounded good to me and I eventually made it to the cash register to pay for my lonely, individual purchase.

I made my way out of the store and called Amanda to see how far away she was. She told me she had missed an exit and would be coming from the other direction. So I crossed the street and waited in a parking lot for her to get there. When she rolled up she was all apologies for a second and then WHAM!!! she pulled out a bag from The Great Escape. I was floored that she had gotten the goods and had pulled one over on me. But she wasn’t done. After pulling out the R.E.M. and Neko Case albums, I kept digging to find some other Record Store Day releases that she knew I wanted. The Bruce Springsteen “Wrecking Ball” 10” single, Tom Waits’ Mule Variations on 180 gram vinyl and a few other freebies. I was speechless. Not only had she done in 30 minutes what I couldn’t do in like 2 hours, she had spent more money on me than I would’ve on myself. That, my friends, is just one of the many reasons I am head over heels for this girl. She never ceases to blow my mind and knows how to get things done! She's even devised a game plan for next year already so we don't run into this again. Thanks for showing me how Record Store Day is done girl!

"1,000,000" - R.E.M. (Chronic Town EP)

This is how Chronic Town looks on blue vinyl:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"American Slang" - The Gaslight Anthem

The lead up period to a new album release by a band you really like is always a fun time. As I've mentioned before, The Gaslight Anthem is probably my favorite band that's come out within the last 5 years or so. Their newest album, American Slang, is set to be released on June 15th and I couldn't be more excited! Their unique brand of Jersey rock, punk and soul is great music for hanging out and driving around with your girl. Believe me, I speak from experience! I love their attitude and their energy and they are one of those bands that I'm always in the mood to listen to. They made a great transition between their first release, Sink Or Swim, and their last release, The '59 Sound, so it'll be interesting to see what they've got up their sleeves for American Slang.

The first single from the album is "American Slang" and it is tried and true to The Gaslight Anthem's sound. I absolutely love it! All of the things that make them so original and incredible are there. The lyrics, the music, the swagger. It's got me so jazzed to hear the whole thing when it comes out. For anyone worried about the band taking any musical left turns or straying too much, they should not be disappointed with this track.

Unfortunately, as is pretty common these days, the album has already leaked. Although it's very easy for me to stay away from it, I hope there aren't any people out there who would settle for a bootleg instead of supporting the band. I'll gladly hold out for the full experience of holding the physical copy in my hands and pouring over the liner notes while cranking the full quality recording. I mean, that is how the band intended it to be. I've got to believe that most folks who would call themselves fans would feel the same way. Besides, I think most people who look for leaks and who illegally download music aren't "fans" as much as they are people who just want to say that they got something earlier than everyone else. The Gaslight Anthem is a hard rocking and hard working band and they deserve our support. Start saving your pennies for June 15th, I promise it'll be worth it!

"American Slang" - The Gaslight Anthem (American Slang)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Valerie" (featuring Amy Winehouse) - Mark Ronson

In honor of the house being a hot mess of boxes, furniture and unpacking, here’s a song featuring my favorite musical hot mess, Amy Winehouse. She may be a whirlwind of personal issues, relational troubles and legal problems, but sometimes she can push them all aside long enough to just flat out sing. Her soulful, 60’s-tinged voice stands out among most female singers who try to shatter glass every opportunity they get. Amy is a throwback to the jazz and R&B singers of decades ago who didn’t mind occasionally singing in lower registers and were confident enough to show restraint by not always going for the high money note. You can easily picture her holding her own in any smoky jazz club or dive bar being backed some old, road-worn musicians who have been around the block a time or two. Plus, I’m pretty sure you’d want her on your side if a bar fight broke out.

So far Amy has only released two albums, with rumors of a third possibly surfacing sometime this year. I hope she gets herself back together enough to pull it off. Not just for the musical offering I’m sure I’d enjoy, but just on a human level, you hate to see someone so down and out like she has been. The music world always needs original voices and artists who know how to create their own art and also have good taste in covering other people’s songs. One of my favorite covers by Amy is “Valerie”, originally done by The Zutons. This fun, toe-tapping gem appears on Mark Ronson’s album Version and it’s guaranteed to put a skip in your step.

"Valerie" (featuring Amy Winehouse) - Mark Ronson (Version)

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Our House" - Madness

Well today is a pretty cool day as Amanda and I are finally closing on our new house! If you’ve never gone through the process of building a new house from the ground up, it’s quite an experience! There are so many decisions to be made, so many “what-if” scenarios to work through, and so many moments of extreme anticipation to try and find a deep breath in. But patience is the name of the game and we finally made it to the finish line. I can’t wait to move in and work through a whole new set of decisions like couch location and curtain color. Wait, that sounds pretty girly. I meant far more manly decisions, like where to store my massive tool set and my steak collection. (By the way, that’s an example of what the kids call “being sarcastic”) This new chapter of our lives is so exciting and I can’t wait to have such a cool space to make and keep new memories in. I’m even excited about finally being able to cut my own grass! That is of course after the sod takes and I transform my “backdirt” into an actual “backyard.” Home Depot, here I come!

"Our House" - Madness (The Rise & Fall)

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana

When I was in middle school, our version of the “Beatles vs. Stones” debate was “Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam”. Arguments were waged, lines were drawn, and there was no safe passage for fence riders. I was firmly in the Nirvana camp and decried Pearl Jam as a “jam band” with pompous 70’s guitar solos and a poser front man. In truth, I really liked Pearl Jam too and just had a harder time learning their stuff on guitar. But as I said, you had to choose only one and Nirvana was it for me. I remember the first time I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV and I was blown away. It not only looked really cool, it looked like something I could be a part of; a concert in a gymnasium, jeans and a t-shirt, and a guitar style that didn’t seem all that difficult or forced. I had to be tricky when buying Nevermind because my parents weren’t in the habit of getting me albums with naked babies on the front. But I succeeded in scoring my very own copy and without being hyperbolic, I can say that it literally changed my life.

Nevermind was the first album that I ever remember really immersing myself in. Immersed as in constant, repeated listenings to get every lyric, vocal line and musical nuance. I didn’t understand what the lyrics were supposed to actually mean most of the time, but you didn’t have to. "How" Kurt sang and played was as important as "what" he was singing. His delivery conveyed the emotion he was going for much more than mere words could. Like tons of other kids my age, Nevermind, made me want to pick up a guitar and get it all out. Kurt made us believe that all of the confusion, isolation and general weirdness of growing up could somehow be waded through with a chuck of wood and some strings. The journey could even be advanced along if you were lucky enough to get your hands on a distortion pedal too!

My parents bought me my first guitar for $60 off of a friend from church. It was a cheap Les Paul knock-off, had a neck like a telephone pole and was the heaviest thing I had ever strapped on. I was in love. It was the most beautiful inanimate object I had ever seen. The blisters on my fingers were glorious war wounds and the cramping in my neck was a labor of love I gladly endured for the chance to be on this journey. While I was learning to play guitar, Nevermind, was one of my most trusted road maps. The first riff I ever learned to play was “Come As You Are”. The first full song I learned to play from top to bottom was “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Sure I learned other people’s songs, but I was determined to get the whole Nevermind album down. Even if I could never get my voice to get that razor-sharp wail in it, I could almost get my guitar to sound like it was speaking the same language as his. But that’s like saying that a toddler and Shakespeare both speak English.

The first concert I ever played as a “band” was in the summer of 1995. I had started playing around after school with my friends Rusty, Ryan and Geoff and we were all learning together. Geoff’s sister Rebecca was having a birthday party and wanted us to play for it. That’s the kind of motivation you need when you are starting out so you can transform from aimless to motivated. We had to actually learn some songs! Somehow I got roped into singing as well and we did our best renditions of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “When I Come Around” by Green Day, “Come Out And Play” by The Offspring, “Zombie” by The Cranberries, “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots and a few others. I remember singing horribly off-key, playing the guitar line to “Zombie” on the wrong string, trying to stage dive onto people that where standing right in front of me and having a great time doing it! Everyone, including the awe-struck crowd, had a blast! Somewhere there is a video floating around of the show and hopefully it never sees the light of day again!

Even now, whenever I hear those first few clean guitar chords being chunked out or watch the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, I am instantly transported back to a place of beginning and discovery. It’s truly a magical thing. It speaks not only to the power of music but to the power of specific artists who's music can find a way into your life at crucial moments, guide you into new areas, and never leave you once they are done showing you things. Maybe that's the thing, maybe the illumination is not just a one time thing. I don't know what "with the lights out, it's less dangerous" means, but I know how I felt when I sang it then and how I feel when I sing it now.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana (Nevermind)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Tessie" - Dropkick Murphys

Well, baseball season officially kicks off today and although I wouldn’t call myself a die hard fan of any one team, I do enjoy casually following the Boston Red Sox. Before their rise to World Series champs in the 2000’s, Boston was the team you went for if you liked the underdog. They had a great history behind them, an iconic ballpark to play in, and their red “B” logo on the blue cap is just classic. They won the first ever World Series in 1903 and after winning it again in 1918, sported one of the longest championship dry spells in MLB history, supposedly due to a curse brought upon them when their owner sold Babe Ruth’s contract to the Yankees to finance a Broadway play. “The Curse of the Bambino”, as it came to be known, is one of the most enduring and interesting stories in baseball’s folklore.

Another great piece of Red Sox history is the story of “Tessie”. There was a contingent of Red Sox fans in the early 1900’s known as “The Royal Rooters”. They used the song “Tessie” from the musical “The Silver Slipper” to both energize their own players and frustrate the other team. Growing up in Atlanta, I would have to equate this to the “Tomahawk Chop” we so effectively used in the 90’s. “Tessie” became a rallying cry for the Red Sox and is still used at Fenway Park today.

In 2004, Boston’s own Dropkick Murphys worked up a new version of “Tessie” with updated lyrics and music. What’s not to love? A great anthemic song performed by a rowdy punk band who really love their hometown team, brilliant! It was released in August and the Red Sox won the World Series in October. You be the judge if it was just coincidence or another “Carlton Fisk waving the home run to stay fair” bit of Red Sox magic. Either way, this song is absolutely fun to listen to and will have you rooting for the Red Sox in no time!

"Tessie" - Dropkick Murphys (Tessie EP)

Who am I kidding, you can’t talk about the Red Sox and music without also throwing a little love to “Sweet Caroline” courtesy of the legendary, one and only Neil Diamond.

"Sweet Caroline" - Neil Diamond (Sweet Caroline single)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman

The Smiths may get to wear the “saddest band of the 80’s” crown for their entire, melancholic catalog, but “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman could match any song of theirs pound for pound in the bleakness category. Released in 1988, it was the first single off of her debut album, Tracy Chapman and helped her to win 3 Grammy awards in 1989: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best New Artist. Rarely has utter hopelessness sounded so beautiful. But don’t let the pretty guitar riff fool you. This one’s a bummer of epic proportions! But Elton was right, sad songs do indeed say so much.

Let’s run down a list of the themes represented in “Fast Car”: escapism, despair, financial troubles, alcoholism, unemployment, parental abandonment, quitting high school, lower income housing, single motherhood, the breakdown of relationships and the inability to escape the quicksand environment of cyclical poverty. Clearly this was the party anthem of 1988. In the song, Tracy takes on the character of a girl who is not being raised in the greatest of environments. Her mother left her father because he was a drunk and couldn’t hold down a job. Tracy decides to stay with her dad because he needs to be taken care of. To accomplish this, she has to quit school and lands a job at a convenience store. She meets a guy who has a “fast car”, which she sees as an opportunity to get out of her current situation. The car makes her feel like there is hope of going somewhere else and starting over. However, she ends up living in a shelter, working in a grocery store, and raising the kids alone because the dude won’t get a job and stays at the bar with his friends instead of coming home. She realizes that instead of changing circumstances, she just brought them with her to a new address. The song ends with her deciding to make something of herself, by herself, and she tells the guy to “keep on driving”.

Lyrically the song is quite the downer, but the music is another story. “Fast Car” incorporates an upbeat, finger-picked acoustic guitar hook for the intro and verses and kicks in with a full band for the, dare I say, uplifting chorus. I think the combination of the contrasting musical and lyrical ideas is what makes this song so special. Folk singers are all about “the song” and “Fast Car” is a great example of a singer-songwriter being able to comment on social issues while still being able to fire on all musical cylinders. It’s as if Woody Guthrie came back from the dead and was finally able to crack Top 40 radio. You know, if Woody Guthrie had been an African-American woman with dreadlocks.

"Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman)