Mixtape 14 – May, 2015

•May 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

With just a few precious days to spare, I have completed this months Mixtape. I think it’s a good one that does an excellent job of capturing the heart of The Alternafolk, Surfsoul, Rock & Roll Revival Meeting. Enjoy the mix (in order, not shuffled), and scroll down for a brief comment on each song.

1. “Call Me – I’ll Be Around Medley” by Bran Van 3000 – I’ve been intrigued by this curious, sever years old Spinners cover (ish) for a few months now. I only knew Bran Van for their 90’s song “Drinking In LA”. But this track has a kind of reassuring, calming aesthetic that keeps me hanging around for the entire six and a half minutes, whether I feel like it or not. It’s much more than just a cover, with some original lyrics, a rap verse, and voices of children set atop the splashing of some gentle wakes. Me likey.

2.  “Blood on Your Bootheels” by Caroline Rose – This is a tasty little slice of Americana from Rose’s debut last year. There is plenty to like on I Will Not Be Afraid. Go check out her album now!

3. “Feeling OK” by Best Coast – Another great track from California Nights, Best Coast’s new album. This one is my wife’s favorite. She has excellent taste. Read more about the album here.

4. “Sugaree” by The Sonics – The new album from 60’s garage act The Sonics just keeps on giving. Turn this one up LOUD.

5. “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” by Bruce Springsteen – This is probably the least talked about song from Springsteen’s 2002 album The Rising. But I love this sexy and soulful summer jam about overcoming obstacles to come together. I especially love the muted-sounding sax solo during the bridge and fade.

6. “Goodbye (feat. Lyse)” by Feder – I don’t know anything about Feder or Lyse. But I know this song fascinating. From the moment Lyse begins to tell her story “about that guy”with her tired French accent, I am hooked.

7. “Tonight The Streets Are Ours” by Richard Hawley – This is the kind of song that, as it’s being created, God must be hearing and thinking “Oh – Matt is going to love this”. From Hawley’s ’07 album Lady’s Bridge.

8. “Gurdjieff’s Daughter” by Laura Marling – This is my no-other-song-is-close favorite from Marling’s latest album. Her phrasing   when she sings “It may not surprise you, but pride has been known to rise up a storm. Countless lives lost at the hands of pride and I’ll fall” hooks me right in the throat, it is so good. Seriously. stop and listen right now.

9. “Only Love” by Mumford and Sons” – My current favorite from the new Mumford album. Three minutes of quiet ballad, jolted into 90 seconds of blistering rock & roll, all doled out with lamenting melancholy. Yes, please.

10. “Thunder Thumbs and Lightnin’ Licks” by The Brothers Johnson – Rest in peace, Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson.

11. “Things Happen” by Dawes – Great new single about growth, moving on, and how sometime we need to let go of certain people.

12. “Untitled” by Social Distortion – Kind of a lost track from Social D’s under appreciated White Light, White Heat, White Trash record. One of my favorite Mike Ness songs.

13. “All the Other Girls” by Avid Dancer – I was mostly meh about the Avid Dancer album, but the groove on this one stood out to me. And, it sounds better with each listen. Maybe I should go check out the album one more time.

14. “Believe (Nobody Knows) by My Morning Jacket – I keep meaning to listen to the new MMJ record, but so far haven’t gotten past this lead track, which is delightful.

15. “Believe” by Dwight Yoakam – I enjoy pairing song that are completely different yet share the same song title. Yoakam’s new album, Second Hand Heart, is further evidence that this guy keeps getting better and better. This is one of my faves.

16. “Saturday Night” by Brian Wilson – When Brian Wilson wakes up and stretches in the morning, I’m guessing his bones create the most beautiful creaking melody you have ever heard. Nate Ruess adds his vocals on this one, another perfectly crafted pop song from the most talented Beach Boy’s new album.

17. “Yeh Yeh” by Georgie Fame – I remember first loving this song via that Matt Bianco version when I was in high school. Originally an instrumental, Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames were the first to score a hit with lyric-enhanced version of the song, back in 1965.

18. “Embers” by The Orange Peels – Lead track from Begin the Begone, the brand new album by this San Francisco Bay Area band. The whole album is wonderful, and I will likely write about it soon. Allen Clapp’s pop music is warm and comforting, like a blanket out of the dryer. Ahhhh…

19. “Lisa Sawyer” by Leon Bridges – I could listen to this kind of soul music all day long. Great new album by this exciting young artist.

20. “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King – We also said goodbye to Ben E. King earlier this month. I knew this song well growing up. But the renaissance the song received because of its inclusion in the movie of the same name gave it new relevance for me in high school.

Baby, You’re Mine – a review of Best Coast’s album California Nights

•May 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment
Photo credit: alwaysmecloting.com

Photo credit: alwaysmecloting.com

“What is life? What is love? What is the meaning of it all? Do I even care or is it just that I am so unaware?”

These questions, sung by Bethany Cosentino on the track “So Unaware”, seem to sum up thematically many of the tunes on the wonderful new Best Coast album, California Nights. It’s not heady by any means, just thoughtful and slightly introspective.

Musically, Cosentino and creative cohort Bob Bruno keep things drenched in the kind of California power-surf-pop that never fails to get my attention. It’s a sound that won my heart early on in my life.  When it’s great, I can fall in love. And I have fallen hard for California Nights.

Cosentino’s vocals are strong and suited perfectly to the sound of Best Coast. Paired with the slightly reflective spirit of the lyrics, it is a nearly heartbreaking sound. Or maybe it’s heart healing. Heart lifting? The opening track, “Feeling OK”, sets the tone perfectly. It is gently upbeat and bright, played at mid-tempo. It acknowledges a bit of melancholy in the lyrics but reveals that, actually, I’m doing pretty good and “When I get down I get so down, but I’ll keep trying to stay this way. I know it’s love that’s got me feeling OK.” And listening to this song makes me feel much more than just ok.

There are moments here that invoke memories of The Go-go’s (especially the delightful “Heaven Sent” and “When Will I Change”), which is not surprising as the album remains pretty squarely in the same sweet-spot that the 80’s punk-pop queens established musical residence. But just when you think California Nights is starting to feel a little samey, the band releases the mesmerizing centerpiece of this collection – the enthralling title track.

“California Nights” was the first single released in advance of the album. The first time I listened to it, I could feel something in the song reach out to grab my hand and pull me gently into its swirling soundscape. Then, Cosentino started singing to me. Yes, you heard me – she started singing to ME. To read the lyrics, the song seems so simple. But to hear Cosentino sing the lyrics – well, that’s a totally different thing. It’s a song about escaping the sometimes difficult realities of day-to-day life. Sometimes, a California night is all it takes to accomplish that escape.

“California nights make me feel so happy I could die.”

But this is not just a song about trying to maintain the high of escape. No matter how great that feeling might seem, so much so that death, or permanent disconnect from reality, would be fine, there is something even greater than that which makes her want to stay alive.

“I never want to get so high –  that I can’t come back down to real life –  and look you in the eyes and “Baby, you’re mine!””

It is a lyric that is delivered with devastating affection. It slays me every time I hear it. And Cosentino makes me believe she is singing it to me. Someone should tell her that I’m married.

Somewhere in the simple sentiment of “California Nights” is the answer to the existential questions about life’s meaning that are posed elsewhere on this record. And with this collection, Best Coast has me feeling way better than ok.

Mixtape 13 – April, 2015

•May 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Good heavens, I haven’t written up a summary of my April Mixtape yet! And, as I’ve been thinking about songs for the May mix, now is a really good time to put a bow on April.

The Mixtape is usually formed by songs that, in my view, sound good placed next together. They form a kind of sonic ebb and flow that, hopefully, is enjoyable for the listener start to finish. It’s a journey, if you will.

I took things a little further for April, at least in my own mind. The April Mixtape tells a kind of story. I’m not going to force the whole thing on you. In short, I had this idea of a guy going through a breakup he never saw coming. He is dealing with this loss while also going through Easter weekend rituals with friends and family, He is exploring the complexities of a faith he has never quite owned for himself, while also walking through the memories of his ex and the hurt and pain of a broken relationship. While experiencing a breakthrough with his faith, the pain from his broken relationship remains, especially following a failed attempt at reconciliation. It’s a complicated journey of understanding the complexities of humanity balanced against the hope of salvation. So, have fun with that.

But seriously, the mix still works with or without my elaborate concept. I won’t bother explaining how I see each of the songs fitting into this journey, because that feels just completely self-indulgent (even more-so than this already existing blog). But I encourage you to enjoy the April Mixtape, and make it mean for yourself whatever you’d like!

Here’s the Spotify list. Brief song comments are listed below.

1. “Never My Love” by Audra Mae and The Forrest Rangers – This is a beautiful cover of The Association’s hit song, taken from the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack. The original is one of my favorite songs, and this just might be better.

2. “Good Friday” by Josh Garrells – Beautiful and haunting meditation on the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion.

3. “More Than A Feeling” by Boston – Almost 40 years later, it still holds up and is emotionally gripping. It’s one of the few nearly perfect songs that exists.

4. “Rory and The Hurricanes” by Ringo Starr – Sir Richard Starkey is back with a new album! While not ground breaking by any means (do we really want Ringo to be ground breaking?), this track is easy and fun.

5. “I Don’t Need No Doctor” by The Sonics – The Sonics, mostly dormant since their mid-60’s heyday, have returned with an album of raging garage rock as good as anything being released on the Rock & Roll landscape in 2015.

6. “Sucker For Love” by Pauline – I don’t know much about this singer and her 2009 album that produced this song, but I love her style on this infectious and largely unknown pop gem.

7. “Superman’s Song” by Crash Test Dummies – Brad Roberts’ vocals. That is the first thing anyone thinks of who remembers this Canadian band and their brief run of success in the 90’s. But get past the novelty and you begin to unfold some interesting and occasionally thought-provoking songs. This one was always a favorite.

8. “Spring” by The Innocence Mission – I made this mix in early April. Spring was still new. This felt appropriate. It’s beautiful. And lyrically, it played right into the faux story that this mix was telling.

9. “I Don’t Wanna” by The Call – I loved The Call. And this is far and away my favorite song by them. For 28 years this song has burst its way into my consciousness, again and again, meaning different things to me and relating to different people at different times. It manages to sound very simple lyrically, yet is emotionally complex and difficult to pin down. I still don’t know what the point of reference is for this song (Man singing to lover? Man singing to friend? God singing to Man? Man singing to God? Man singing to family member?) and I don’t care. It is great and powerful every time I hear it. In a just world, this would have been a massive hit.

10. “Even the Wind and The Waves Obey Him” by Salt of the Sound – Lovely and meditative.

11. “Let It Happen” by Tame Impala – New song from Tame Impala. Great groove, very infectious. Gets better with each listen.

12. “Change is Everything” by Son Lux – Another new song, this one is pure inspiration. “This moment, change is everything” gets repeated a lot, reinforcing the permanence of change while also celebrating the growth and transition that change can bring.

13. “Colors” by Genevieve – This is so great! Thanks to my wife for turning me on to this new pop anthem. Be who you are and show who you are. And dance a lot.

14. “Nature of the Beast” by Trent Dabbs – Lovely folk tune from this singer-songwriter who has apparently been making albums for several years now.

15. “The Right Time” by Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson has just released what could have been another great, modern Beach Boys album (thanks a lot , Mike Love). As it is, this is a wonderful solo record that incorporates a lot of well-placed guest vocals. Al Jardine and David Marks show up on this tune, practically making it a Beach Boys tune with our without Mike Love’s approval.

16. “Back in the Crowd” by Tom Waits – One of my favorite songs from a couple of years ago. Tom Waits is always interesting. But at his best, as with this song, he is devastatingly sad and beautiful.

17. “Death With Dignity” by Sufjan Stevens – Speaking of devastating sad and beautiful…wow. The new Sufjan Stevens album is sweetly melancholy and excellent. Give it a close and thoughtful listen.

18. “I’m Good” by The Mowgli’s – Feel good pop anthem from this gang of group-sing shouters.

19. “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” by Johnny Cash – An gospel anthem for Easter, presented with legendary excellence by Johnny and June Carter Cash.

20. “We Are Alive” by Bruce Springsteen – And speaking of Johnny Cash…Springsteen’s ode to the heroic souls who have come and gone before us pays direct musical homage to Cash’s “Ring of Fire”.

Some thoughts on the mixtape (and Mixtape 12 – March, 2015)

•March 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

For the past year, I have been creating a monthly mixtape on my Spotify account. I love mixtapes. I love making mixtapes. I love the thought that goes into a well-crafted sequence of songs, intended to be heard in the order they were placed. It is an art that is largely lost in today’s shuffle mode world of hastily thrown together playlists.

Don’t get me wrong – the shuffle mode playlist certainly has its place. Every two to three months, I compile a list of a few hundred songs from my music library that I listen to on shuffle mode when I can’t decide on an album or artist. It’s like my own personal radio station (you know, the Alternafolk, surfsoul, Rock & Roll Revival Meeting). But sometimes, I like a little more intentionality to my mix. That’s what made the mixtape, back in the day, so great. You couldn’t shuffle the cassette. The songs you put on your tape were now going to be listened to, in that order, for the life of the cassette (unless you scotch taped over the tab-holes and recorded over your mix, God forbid). It was that permanence that forced mixtape aficionados to carefully consider which songs to include and, just as importantly, in which order to put them. Mixtape creators were mixologists. It’s listeners were purveyors of an art form.

The mix CD, though capable of providing similar magic, made it easy to take the art out of the mixology. Theoretically, you could simply through together a random playlist of songs on your computer and then click “burn to disc” with not further thought. That is sloppy mixtape making. The nature of original mixtape making forced the creator to listen to the entirety of each song being included on the cassette. Sometimes, this lead to a mid-song realization that something wasn’t working, and a particular song would need to be removed. This forced the creator to stop, rewind, and re-record over that song. Could this process be a bit tedious? Sure. But an artist isn’t afraid to suffer for his craft. And payoff came when the mixtape was complete, and could be properly enjoyed forever by its intended recipient (even if that was the artist, himself/herself).

So, it is in the spirit of the original concept that I now present my monthly Mixtape series. These are intended not be shuffled, but rather to be listened to in the order they are presented. It’s not that there is a thematic element involved (though that may be the case for stretches of each piece), but rather that each twenty song set is designed to flow together in a way that makes the “mixtape” sound better as a whole than it does as a sum of its individual parts (much like a great album). The songs are culled from recent releases I have been checking out, as well as just about anything that has come before. Some of the songs are familiar, many are probably not.

Which brings us to this months offering, Mixtape 12 – March, 2015. I hope you enjoy it!

A few words about this month’s mixtape:

1. “Green Shirt” by Elvis Costello – A favorite old tune from A.C. and The Attractions. Chosen mostly because it has “green” in the title, and this is March. Which closes out the St. Patrick’s Day portion of the mix.

2. “Shakin’ All Over” by Wanda Jackson – Great cover, great party song.

3. “California Nights” by Lesley Gore – Gore passed away earlier this month. She was a 1960’s teen-pop sensation. When I was a little kid, I would watch reruns of the old Adam West Batman series. Gore appeared on the show as Catwoman’s sidekick, and performed this song for her henchmen. I was smitten.

4. “California Nights” by Best Coast – Not a cover, but an amazing new song that sounds even better following its sugary-sweet namesake. And when Bethany Cosentino sings “I never wanna get so high that I can’t come back down to real life and look you in the eyes and say ‘Baby, you’re mine'” – it feels like she is pushing those words deep inside my soul.

5. “All Night Long” by The Mavericks – Great party song from the solid new album by Raul Malo and The Mavericks.

6. “Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO – their biggest U.S. hit, reaching #4 Billboard in1979.

7.  “Friendship” by Pops Staples – So soulful, so good.

8. “Shake You Off” by Charlie Belle – This is a young trio out of Austin that sounds more like they could have come from London.

9. “(Did You Just Take the) Long Way Home” by Colin Hay – From Hay’s new album, Next Year People. This guy is a grossly under appreciated treasure.

10. “Psalm 42 (Hope in God) by Robbie Seay Band” featuring Aimee Norris –  I like to read Psalm 42, slowly, while listening to this beautiful and haunting track. “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.”

11. “Take You High” by Kelly Clarkson – Clarkson has just realized a really great pop album. Right now, this is my favorite track.

12. “Love You” by The Free Design – This is currently appearing on a commercial for United Airlines. Great little folk tune from this mostly forgotten family band from the 60’s.

13. “Darlin’ Be Home Soon” by The Lovin’ spoonful – This sounds like it could be a Dylan song. Not one of the first songs that comes up when remembering this band, but probably my favorite.

14. “When I Get This Way (Over You)” by Material Issue – For a while, it was really hard to track this song down. From the band’s second album, I remember playing it a lot during my college radio days, but years later couldn’t find it in any record stores. Even as the digital age unfolded, it took a while for this to become available. Another great party song.

15. “Give it Up” by Hothouse Flowers – Keeping the party going, with a great message to boot!

16. “Circle ‘Round The Sun” by Matthew E. White – I love a good Jesus song that comes from deep within the human heart, a place we can all connect with, and leaves Christian platitudes by the wayside.

17. “Bring Your Arms” by Kate Pierson – Now in her 60’s, the former B-52’s singer has delivered a pretty great solo album.

18. “America’s Sweetheart” by Elle King – The more I listen to King’s album, the more I love it. It’s gritty, fun, heartfelt, passionate, and as this song indicates, uncompromising. “What do you want from me? I’m not America’s sweetheart.”

19. “Here We Go” by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – An ambling, barroom sing-a-long from Holcomb’s latest record.

20. “Dream Baby Dream” by Bruce Springsteen – A cover of synth-punk duo Suicide. Kind of magical.

The REAL best album of 2014…

•January 16, 2015 • 1 Comment

image from nerdbastards.comRecently, I finally got around to publishing my list of 2014’s best albums. But, in truth, the 2014 album that actually meant the most to me was left off that list.

I’m talking about, of course, The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.

First, let’s talk briefly about the move. Up to this point, if there was a movie coming out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that seemed destined to be a clunker, it was this one. it was a small, little known title from the Marvel Comics catalog that nobody seemed to care about or really even remember. Plus it featured a tree and a talking raccoon. Good luck with that, Marvel.

Instead, this impossible story became one of their most endearing and beloved releases since the original Iron Man movie. It was Star Wars for a new generation. I even teared up during this movie. So help me God, I was teary!

A big part of what made this movie magical was the sentimental and wonderfully out-of-place 70’s soundtrack. Prior to getting kidnapped by aliens as a kid, our hero, Peter Quill, was given a mix tape by his mother (Awesome Mix, Vol. 1). The tape was filled with some of her favorites songs. And Quill listens to this tape constantly. And in 2014, so did my family.

But the albums’ place in our heavy rotation wasn’t driven so much by me. Rather, it was my 16-year-old son, Evan, who played this over and over.

I’ve written about Evan before. He is our ASD, Aspie kid. He loves all things Marvel comics and Marvel movies. And, since he was a toddler, he has loved music. Some of our earliest memories of Evan involve him listening to his favorite songs and using a pair of wooden spoons to drum along on the couch, keeping the beat perfectly while also singing along. Now, I’m not talking about kid songs. His favorites were things like “Video Killed The Radio Star”, “I Want It That Way”, Weezer’s “Island in the Sun”, and the DVD for Bruce Springsteen’s Live in NYC concert from 2000. He has always dialed into the songs that Natalie and I were listening to, but it is the stuff from previous eras that he seems to dig the best. He was recently really excited to discover Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends.” I believe it was helping him work through a challenging friendship. I think he hears and connects with the honesty of emotion in a lot of these old songs. I get that.

So along comes Guardians of the Galaxy, which combines his love for superheroes and his love for old school pop tunes. That’s a win-win. For both of us.

The songs chosen for this were critical. It’s a lot of pop, with edges and rock, soul, R&B, and a little punk. Some of the tunes are all time classics (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”). Some were big hits that have become slightly forgotten (10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”), and some were considered so cheesy that it has taken nearly 40 years for them to become listenable again (Rupert Holmes’ “Escape”). But all of it works to keep things light and fun while adding a layer of nostalgia and sentimentality to this story about the power of friendship, teamwork, and love. Oh, it’s also about good guys and bad guys fighting and blowing a lot of stuff up. And there’s a big tree and a talking raccoon.

On a personal note, the soundtrack is important because I love seeing Evan discover and fall in love with these songs – songs that were part of the soundtrack to my own youth – for the first time. I remember discovering The raspberries’ “Go All The Way” in middle school and wondering why it was never played on the radio anymore. And now, watching Evan emulate Chris Pratt’s moves to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” was a little like looking into the past and getting to relive my original experience with this music. It has allowed me to fall in love with these songs all over again. Even the Pina Colada Song . That is the magic of this album.

Plus, I now get the added bonus of driving down the street with Evan and his 11 year-old brother, all of us singing loudly “Hello Daddy, Hello Mom, I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch Cherry Bomb!” (It’s both fantastic and a little uncomfortable)

I didn’t include Guardians of the Galaxy’s Awesome Mix Vol. 1 on my best albums list because none of the songs are new to 2014. That kind of eliminated it from consideration. But, looking outside of those boundaries into the territory that occupies the heart of my family, the most important album of 2014 for us was the one that conjured images of Star Lord challenging the evil Ronan to “listen to these words” while singing “Ooh Child”, a tiny tree dancing to the Jackson 5, a green girl discovering pop music through “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”, and a band of intergalactic misfits uniting to the “Ooga-chaka” sounds of Blue Suede.  And it also created a bunch of great, spontaneous, burst out loud sing-a-long moments for my family. That is a special album, and the best of 2014.

The Top 12 Albums of 2014!

•January 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Where have I been for the past several months?

Well, you know, life and stuff. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime. But I’ve got business to take care of right now. And while I realize that I am about three weeks late for this, I just wouldn’t feel good about myself unless I got this list done.

If you are new to my list, here’s the skinny: I’ve always done a top 12. It’s weird, but deal with it. The album had to be released in 2014 to be considered, and it had to be an album of newly recorded material, which usually eliminates most soundtracks. I comprise the list solely based on my opinion. These are MY favorites. I don’t listen to every album that comes out because nobody does that. I also don’t listen to as many records as I used to because, as I mentioned before, life and stuff. But I try. Because I love it. Also, this list is likely to change as the years go by, because that’s how subjectivity works.

Before we start, I will say that this year, more than most, was really hard to land at a number one. I usually have three or four records that separate themselves from the pack, but the separation from one to twelve felt much smaller this year. But, I accept the challenge and humbly offer you my result.

My list of the top 12 albums of 2014! Let’s count ’em down backwards, just like Casey Kasem and Dick Clark taught us to do!

12. Nick Waterhouse, Holly

This was such an easy album to put on in the background while doing just about anything. And you could also turn it up and dance to it, which I actually dreamed about this year. Seriously. I was on the deck of a beach house with a handful of random people I don’t know, sunbathing, when this album came on and we all got up and started shuffling in the coolest, hipster-beware way ever known. The retro surf-soul sound is a pillar of The Meeting’s musical foundation. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “This Is A Game”, “It No. 3”, “Sleeping Pills”, “Holly”

11. The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream

If you make a record that sounds like it could have come out in the early to mid 1980’s, you will get my attention. Especially if you also remain anchored in the present. This album accomplished this to great affect. The synth-drenched songs can be pulsing, brooding, and tense, but this album is not a downer. It is bright and hopeful, even when the lyrics don’e seem to be conveying that. It actually gets better with each listen. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Burning”, “Under The Pressure”, “Eyes To The Wind”, “Red Eyes”

10. The Men, Tomorrow’s Hits

I wouldn’t say The Men have polished up their sound on Tomorrow’s Hits as much as just used their shirt sleeve to wipe off some of the grime.  But it works beautifully, and I quickly fell in love with this early 2014 release. The band moves seamlessly through sounds of punk, country, pop, americana, and straight-up rock & roll. I’ll bet these guys sound great in a bar. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Settle Me Down”, “Get What You Give”, “Another Night”, “Different Days”

9. U2, Songs of Innocence

Once you’ve stripped away all of positive and negative hyperbole surrounding the release of this album, what you are left with is actually a pretty great record. No, it’s not U2’s best, but every album can’t be legendary. And what prevents this from being talked about in those terms is it’s lack of stop-you-in-your-tracks tunes. But what lifts this from being mediocre is that there is not a single clunker in the pack. Everything here starts at solid and elevates from there. You just might have to cut your way through the media hype and backlash to find it. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “California (There Is No End To Love)”, “The Troubles”, “Cedarwood Road”, “Every Breaking Wave”

8. Slow Club, Complete Surrender

This English duo of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor have created a fascinating and beautiful album of, oh, let’s call it roots-pop. Watson’s voice often conveys a kind of weary earthiness, while Taylor is often seductive and torchy. But the combination works beautifully. And I found myself having a different listening experience each time I went through this. I eventually stopped trying to pin this thing down, and just did what the album title suggests. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Everything Is New”, “Suffering You, Suffering Me”, “Complete Surrender”, “Dependable People and Things That I’m Sure Of”

7. Eels, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett

I am a complete sucker for the quiet and introspective side of a man called E. Everett has never been afraid wear his heart on his sleeve and then transcribe said heart right into his music. I’ve loved following his journey. And while much of this album seems to live in the realm of personal regret, Mr. E still manages to salvage the hope in his beautiful blues and makes sure that we feel it, too. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Parallels”, “Agatha Chang”, “Series of Misunderstandings”, “Where I’m Going” (and if you have the deluxe version, “Good Morning Bright Eyes”)

6. Neil Diamond, Melody Road

The last ten years have been a bit of a renaissance period for Mr. Diamond, especially with his three albums of original material. Stop laughing, I’m serious! Melody Road is a simple and gorgeous effort, brighter than his two efforts with Rick Reuben, but maintaining the spirit of his earlier (and more critically acclaimed) work. Neil (I think I can call him “Neil”) writes a love song with the simplicity and depth that draw from all of his 73 years. The production team of Don Was and Jacknife Lee do a great job of breathing sonic life into the tunes, as well. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Something Blue”, “Seongah and Jimmy”, “Alone At the Ball”, “The Art of Love”, “(ooh) Do I Wanna Be Yours”

5. Alvvays, Alvvays

I came to this very late in the year. I had been aware of it, but put off actually listening to it. Then, when I dd – magic! Wow! How did I not hear this sooner! Why does this record make punctuate all of my questions with exclamation points! But that’s how it makes me feel. And yet, because I only just recently found this magical piece of low-fi, sugar-pop, I can’t be sure whether or not to completely trust it. Will I tire of it quickly? Or will it continue to grow on me? As such, I stuck it at number five, knowing that in five years, I may raise or lower its placement dramatically. Regardless, very worth a listen. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Adult Diversion”, “Archie, Marry Me”, “Next of Kin”, “The Agency Group”

4. Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes

This isn’t a traditional kind of Springsteen album, in that it’s a hodge-podge of unreleased songs from the past ten or so years, culled together and re-recorded with his current (E Street) band of touring musicians. Additionally, there are two covers included, and a couple of previously released, but now re-recorded Springsteen tracks. In fact, the title track is a re-recorded version of a previously released cover song. And now my brain hurts. Regardless, this is a great collection of songs, regardless of whether they are thematically connected (though I must say, “Harry’s Place is a bit of a musical clunker, sounding like something Glen Frey would have recorded for Miami Vice).  Tom Morello’s guitar is present for most of the album, and he even shares lead vocals on a spectacular version of The Boss’s “Ghost of Tom Joad”. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Frankie Fell In Love”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, “Just Like Fire Would”, “Down In The Hole”

3. Dry The River, Alarms in the Heart

Dry The River deliver alt-rock anthems that dabble just enough into prog-rock territory to entice those who enjoy such things, while not alienating those (read: me) who often find the genre tiresome and off-putting. But off-putting this record is not. Rather, it embraces me like a warm blanket of power and introspection. I had not been previously aware of this band, so Alarms In The Heart serves as my introduction. It’s a pleasure to meet these guys and there journey through an apparent personal/spiritual crisis/enlightenment, which has produced some richly satisfying art. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Med School”, “Alarms in the Heart”, “Gethsemane”, “Everlasting Light”

2. Ray LaMontagne, Supernova

I really wrestled with the thought of making this number one. It was close. While I generally like LaMongagne, this is the first time that I have LOVED LaMontagne. Supernova is a hippy-trip into some retro psychedelia so groovy sounding, you might just swear he recorded this album 40 plus year ago, while he was still in diapers. What is fantastic is that these songs work great individually, but the cohesive album experience is even better. Throughout the year, my favorite song has changed so much that it is almost impossible to recommend just a few. But…BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Lavender”, “Airwaves”, “Drive-in Movies”, “Ojai”, “Supernova”

1. Beck, Morning Phase

For about three months, early in 2014, this was almost all I was listening to. It’s a great Winter record. But, true to its title, it works best in the early hours, regardless of season. This is not a singles record. Its highest value is found in its whole, rather than the sum of its parts. Even when I thought I was tired of it, I could instantly be pulled back in simply by selecting “play”. In a year that saw me pretty much disappear from my blog, this was the only full album I actually wrote about. It’s quiet, moody, and oddly uplifting. I love this record, and can already hear a timeless quality in it. If you haven’t yet, make sure you check this one out. But do it on a quiet, early morning. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Morning”, “Heart is a Drum”, “Turn Away”, “Waking Light”

Yes, there were other albums I considered for this list. Here are the ones that fought hardest to be included, and I had to wrestle out to keep it at 12:

Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm

Coldplay, Ghost Stories

The Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give the People What They Want

Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

And here are a few more that I also really enjoyed in 2014…

LP, Forever for Now

Jukebox the Ghost, Jukebox the Ghost

Nicole Atkins, Slow Phaser

The Paul & John, Inner Sunset

Hamilton Leithauser, Black Hours

Crowder, Neon Steeple

Augustines, Augustines

Sean Nicholas Savage, Bermuda Waterfall

Morgan James, Hunter

Also, I created a list of 50 great songs from 2015. You can listen to that list here: 

American Idol 2014, top 5 recap – You will sing what America tells you to sing!

•April 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

top 5

I am feeling some American Idol fatigue. I have already made up my mind who should win, as well as who should finish second and third, so we’re just going through motions at this point. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s say goodbye to C.J. He would have been way more interesting than Sam tonight, but it doesn’t matter because neither one of them are going to be in the top 3.

Okay – it’s late, and as usual, I’m not getting paid. So let’s get to this. The theme was “America’s Choice”, which means all of America got together last week to decide on which songs to have the contestants perform. It got a little heated sometimes, but we eventually came to a consensus. Zooey Deschanel showed up to do Ryan Secrest’s job to start the show. It would have been cool if she just stayed and kept doing his job. Here’s how it all went, in order of performance.

ALEX PRESTON “The Sweater Song” by The Neighborhood – The song sounded great, and Alex sounded great. I would like to have seen more bounce from him, as the song kind of demanded, but this was typically strong Alex. He’ll get better with uptempo as he grows as an artist.

Austin Mahone showed up so we could take a selfie with he and Ryan. I didn’t. But I was glad to see that young Mr. Mahone seems to have dropped the contrived hip-hop accent I’ve heard him use in the past.

CALEB JOHNSON “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith – Candles! And maybe Caleb’s kryptonite. The melodic and gentle power ballad. A little pitchy, dawg. Yes, he sang “Faithfully” well earlier this season, but even that had some weak spots. This one had a lot of them. And it suddenly dawned on me – Caleb isn’t Meatloaf. He’s Michael Bolton! As long as he can belt it loud, he has not problem with the song. But when he has to be gentle and melodic, he kind of loses his way and just stands there and stares into the camera, while not singing well.

JENA, ALEX, AND SAM “Best Day Of My Life” by American Authors – Bottom line:  Jena put the boys to shame on this trio. That’s all you need to know about this performance.

JESSICA MEUSE “Human” by Christina Perri – Fog! And a performance that I think may have been Jessica’s best. She sang the song well, which I come to expect from her. But she also showed some actual signs of genuine emotion. I still don’t think she is a top three performer, but I’m sold that she should be in the top four next week.

Hey look – Ariana Grande is here to bring Sam his microphone and then have a really awkward moment on stage with Sam and Ryan! Hooray, awkwardness!

SAM WOOLF “Sing” by Ed Sheeran -Jason Mraz, who was mentoring the singers tonight, encouraged Sam to get funky on this. Sam laughed at the idea of getting funky. And yes, so did all of us. Because we know, quite well, that Sam is not capable of going anywhere near that mythical city we all know as Funkytown. He did manage to make a couple of scrunchy-faces, but that was nowhere close to getting funky. He suggested that he needed to “ride the groove”. That must be the name of the express that takes one to Funkytown. But, as we’ve already insinuated, Sam does not have a pass for that bus.

JENA IRENE “My Body” by Young The Giant – I don’t know when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the course of this season I just kind of decided that I didn’t want anyone else to win but Jena. She is terrific. I love the way she just loses herself in the song. She is so much more entertaining to watch on stage than anyone else. And her voice – so good. While this song was not her best, it’s a testament to her talent that it was so thoroughly enjoyable. She is strong and confident. I also like that she looked like a punk rock sailor. Without question, round one tonight goes to Jena.

CALEB and JESSICA “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones – Whoa. This one got a little steamy. They both sang it well, but I couldn’t help thinking how much better it would have been with Jena singing instead of Jessica. Though I fully admit the 17 year-old had no business singing those lyrics too a 22-year-old.

Hey look! Ariana Grande is being awkward again, this time with Ryan and Randy! I love awkwardness!

ALEX PRESTON “Say Something” by Great Big World – Alex kicks off round two with his hair reaching new heights. While I hoped that meant he was going to do a Flock of Seagulls song (I thought that’s what we decided, America?), I have no complaints about what he did sing. Beautiful. I mean, really. Not much else needs to be said. Moving. Best of the night, for me.

JENA IRENE “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse -Another testament to how good Jena is. This was not a great song choice, as far as being able to showcase dynamism. But she still turned a delightful performance. Her interaction with the band is genuine and engaging. I would go see her with the band she was on stage with for this song.

SAM WOOLF “How To Save A Life” by The Fray – Well, we got more scrunchy-face to feign emotion. But this was instantly forgettable. Same ol’ same ol’ for Sam. Decent voice, vacant performance. He needs to go.

JESSICA MEUSE “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Rey – Perfect song choice. The song fit her vocal perfectly. Also, Jessica’s tendency to under perform actually fit the tone of this well, which actually made the performance more interesting. Solid performance.

CALEB JOHNSON “Still of The Night” by Whitesnake – And them Caleb did a Whitesnake song and just brought the whole house down. Seeeeeeriously. I also learned that my wife knows all of the words to “Still of the Night” by Whitesnake. Hmm. The more you know. Anyway, Caleb just killed this song that fit right smack in the center of his wheelhouse, which was good after his first legitimately “off” song of the season during the first half of the show.

So that was the show! And after watching all of that, here is how I rank them based on tonight’s performances:

  1. JENA IRENE
  2. ALEX PRESTON
  3. CALEB JOHNSON
  4. JESSICA MEUSE
  5. SAM WOOLF

I could have just as easily slotted Caleb at two and Alex at three, but I just couldn’t shake the Michael Bolton epiphany. The bottom line is that either Sam or Jessica need to go home, and what I really mean by that is Sam needs to go home. He should have gone home several weeks ago when the judges foolishly decided to use their save on him. But Jessica was in the bottom two last week, which concerns me. I would much rather listen to her for one more week than Sam. Please, America, do the right thing.

My overall top three remains Jena, Caleb, and Alex. But as I stated earlier, Jena is the only one I want to win at this point. Three more weeks.