August 1, 2011

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #5: Denison Witmer

Philadelphia songwriter Denison Witmer crafts songs of uncommon incisiveness, sung directly and piercingly in his simple tenor. I’ve known his music for a few years, having probably first noticed him through his musical collaborations with his friends Sufjan Stevens and Rosie Thomas.

I fell hard for his cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” years before that fella from Wisconsin did it, and his song “The Gift of Grace” scores every Christmastime for me. I’ve adopted “California Brown and Blue” as a (slightly depressing) theme song. There’s something in the way that he sings that just lays it all out for me, bare and unadorned.

But there is also much more to Denison’s music than I was familiar with. On a sticky hot Sunday last weekend, he sat comfortably in a big empty church, slight and snappily-clad in a pink micro-checkered shirt. He unfolded four of his songs for us, and each one blew us away. His voice is unassuming, and I find it all the more powerful for that – similar to how one of those nimble lasers can cut you so much more quickly and effectively than the big heavy scalpels. If I had to pick one single word to describe his music, I would call it simply “piercing,” right to the core.


Take More Than You Need
This. Song. Is. Amazing. Denison hopes to release it on a future EP, and I had never heard it before. As I sat next to Conor the sound guy while Denison did a few takes of this, we kept looking over at each other, wordlessly saying “Wow.” To me, this is a stunning song about authentic (and scary) intimacy. Intimacy is a word that gets thrown around a lot, with varying meanings and depths implied. But the way Denison understands it reminds me of Kelli Schaefer’s song “Gone In Love” as she sings: “When the burden is love, it is the only weight that ever was worth carrying.”

It’s an invitation to gorge on a reliable love. We get so damn used to taking just the minimum from each other, afraid to be ravenous at times, afraid to be desperate, even though we all are.

Stay, stay with me here for a while
when the water in me dries, when the water in me dries
Wait, wait with me all afternoon
when the spirit in me moves, when the spirit in me moves

If you’re lying awake
with a lifetime to go
and the thoughts that you take with you
take more than you know

…If you’re lying awake
with my hands on your waist
wondering what you can take from me
…take more than you need.

California Brown and Blue (revisited)
I came across this perfect song when I was crafting the very personal San Francisco mix last year, full of all the songs all about and for and reminiscent of my hometown area. It does a really good job at getting into this hot-edged tangle of feelings I have in my belly and my heart for California, and for the people that live there and still hold parts of me. The arrangement Denison played at the chapel session is elegant and reinvented as something even more stunning. Another coastline gives in to waves and fades away…

Your Friend
According to Denison, the themes of his newest record are patience, mindfulness, and reverence. This song carries through some of the themes of the work of growing in intimacy that I hear in “Take More Than You Need.” Denison wrote:

“I wanted to take a very simple phrase like ‘I’ll be your friend’ and dive into what it truly means. I wrote this song for my wife… so it is primarily about getting married — the long term implications of that type commitment. It feels overwhelming because there is a certain death of self or lack of ego required to make things work. I don’t see the death of self as being a bad thing at all. I see it as a positive. We have much more to gain from losing our ego than we do in holding tightly to our selfish motivations.

Jennie and I got married in our early 30s. We had both been in a decent number of serious relationships before we met each other. We all carry the baggage of our past into our future relationships. We carry the baggage we create in real-time in our relationships as well. In the last verse of the song leading up through the ending, I sing: “…scattered our young hearts in the stones / in the weeks away / how your garden changed / but day by day you’d hardly know / now the fruits of our love fall out of the trees…” Even though we feel like we aren’t improving at times, being patient and mindful can result in true change within… The garden grows even when we don’t notice it.”

Three Little Birds (Bob Marley)
Denison is known for loving covers, arguably as much as I do. It’s one of the reasons we get along so well. He’s reinvented so many fantastic songs in his own vernacular, as part of his Covers Project (now permanently hosted over at Cover Lay Down); he probes the underpinnings and the rough edges in songs, bringing them to us in ways we’ve never heard them. Instead of a steel drum dancealong tune, this one becomes a simple little wisp of reassurance.


Denison’s new album The Ones Who Wait is out now, as well as a great collection of live material from house shows in the past year, Live In Your Living Room, Vol. 1. The live album is fun because it also captures Denison’s banter; for all the pristinely humble beauty of his songs, he can absolutely tell a great story or ten. We went out for beers after the chapel session and he had us in stitches with his story about the worst Denver show he ever played: it involved a dude with a skullet (bald mullet) and a lady that looked like Stevie Nicks, lifting up her flowy skirt during his set. It was incredible.

If you’re new to Denison, I would strongly recommend his 2005 album Are You A Dreamer? for a starting point (Sufjan appears on almost every track; this was around the time they were touring together), and watch for his new EP sometime later this year. Denison is a gem.

December 12, 2012

All is calm / All is bright :: The Fuel/Friends 2012 Holiday Mix

It finally snowed full-force in Colorado this weekend, enough to divert me off the highway in a flurry of white, and to a roadside La Quinta on Saturday night coming home from the Patty Griffin concert. The temps hovered consistently at a lush 19º Sunday, and is currently at 7º. All is calm and bright because no one wants to move outside their electric blankets, so it’s been a good weekend for me to road-test these songs. I am very pleased to report that this is my favorite December mix I’ve yet made.

When it comes to music I can handle in December, I have a suuuper low threshold for annoying. We talk about this every year, you and me (and anyone who has the bad luck of walking into a retail establishment with me). No chipmunks, no Spanish cantantes with clacky castanets, no cloying duets, and we shall not speak of synthesizers.

I have subjected myself to some of these unpalatable things in my quest to screen out the perfect holiday mix to soundtrack your season, but the good news is that sites like Bandcamp are making is very easy for musicians to release quality originals to their fans for the holidays. This year I had the bonus-really-good idea to ask some musician friends of mine who have been loved by Fuel/Friends over the years if they had anything lying around that they’d like to contribute. A surprising number of them said yes (!!). Ben Kyle of Romantica sent me an original song of his, and Eef Barzelay (of Clem Snide) replied with his pensive version of a Christmas classic. Denison Witmer had lost his copy of “The Gift of Grace” (one of my favorite original Christmas songs in a long time) so I dug it up to put on this mix and sent him a copy.

I’ve been raving to friends all week about the high proportion of just really good SONGS in this year’s mix — holidays, or no. Some of these I might sneak a listen to all year ’round. At the very minimum, I have some new artists in my stable now. This mix also fits on a CD, with gorgeous album art by Ryan Hollingsworth (can we give him a round of applause for donating his design skills for all of my mixes for the last couple/many seasons?) and a photograph taken by my friend Jewel in Portland. Burn copies for all your friends, for the best kind of gift you can give them.

Christmas hugs to all of you, from me. That sweater looks really nice on you.


Christmas Song – Yarn
This song is what would happen if “The Weight” was a holiday carol, and is just so perfectly bittersweet. You know, in a really sentimental good way though. Yarn from Brooklyn released this last year.

Carry Me Home – Hey Rosetta!
This was written in the summer in Australia, but it was after the band had been on tour for a while, and so the sentiments of wanting to be close to family ring true this time of year. This also reminds me of a terrific Graceland outtake or something. I love this band so much x1000. From their new Christmas EP.

Do You Hear What I Hear – Tyler Heath (of The Oh Hellos)
Finding this Christmas EP from Tyler Heath was kind of like hitting the jackpot, since I am extremely fond of the new Oh Hellos record (get it here; they were also on my Fall mix)

Let The Snow Fall – Andrew and the North American Grizzly
This song just walked into my holiday party and won me over with a wink. “These songs are red and green / so let’s sing ‘em.” I swear it wasn’t just the eggnog. From Bandcamp.

Snow – Sleeping at Last
Okay. SO. This Wheaton, Illinois band is just one guy, Ryan O’Neal, and he is two-for-two at totally knocking me for a loop with the unassuming splendor and insight of his songs. I first featured him on my springtime mix (and pulled the mix title itself from one of his lyrics). He spent last year releasing regular EPs all year on a subscription model through his “Yearbook” project, with a whole free album of Christmas music out now. I don’t usually post entire lyrics in the dead-center of a mix, but this is pretty much the best wish any of us can hope for this holiday season. When I burn this mix for friends, I am going to print these lyrics out as a benediction for each one of them.

The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves
all warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
christmas lights tangle in knots annually

Our families huddled closely, betting warmth against the cold
and our bruises seem to surface like mud beneath the snow
so we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know
and pray that our burdens will lift as we go
like young love still waiting under mistletoe
welcome December, with tireless hope

Let our bells keep on ringing, making angels in the snow
and may the melody disarm us when the cracks begin to show
like the petals in our pockets, may we remember who we are:
unconditionally cared for by those who share our broken hearts

The table is set and all glasses are full
no pieces go missing, may we still a feel a hole
we’ll build new traditions in place of the old
’cause life without revision will silence our souls

Let the bells keep on ringing, making angels in the snow
and may the melody surround us when the cracks begin to show
like the petals in our pockets, may we remember who we are:
unconditionally cared for by those who share our broken hearts

As gentle as feathers the snow piles high
our world gets rewritten, and retraced every time
like fresh paints and clean slates, our future is white
new year’s resolutions will reset tonight.

Come – Oh, Starling
A Christmas original that weaves together a lot of carols you know, and filters them through a warm haze like falling asleep on the backseat of your parents’ car on the way home from church services when you were seven. Oh, Starling is one of Denver’s finest pairings, of Jessica Sonner and Dan Craig, who both make wonderful music also on their own, and have two holiday EPs.

Rebel Jesus (Jackson Browne) – The Wood Brothers
Also from these Colorado mountains, the Wood Brothers (as in Medeski, Martin, and Wood) offer up their slightly broken, roadworn take on Jackson Browne’s classic hymn to the pagan heathens and the true rebellion inherent in the Jesus that some of us celebrate this season.

Joy To The World – Eef Barzelay
Since Eef (of Clem Snide) does such magical things with his music, both his originals and his reinvented covers, I asked him what he had for the season and he replied with this. There is no triumphant majesty here, but there is a quiet peace.

Brightly Above – The Prairie Empire
The seasonal EP from this Brooklyn band is so lovely that I broke form and put them on here twice. Their full-length debut record has also been on Fuel/Friends rotation.

O Holy Night – Branches
Everyone probably has their favorite Christmas song and this is mine. I especially favor ones I can sing along with at the top of my lungs, so the prominent alto harmonies here are my jam. Branches are doing this cool California mini-tour next week of singing along to Christmas songs. If I still lived there, I would go and belt it. From their Christmas EP on Bandcamp.

Christmas Night – Justin Jones
This is a love song camouflaged as a Christmas song, kind of like how my favorite Jason Anderson song is only peripherally-related to the 4th of July. Justin Jones is from Washington D.C. and he has an Americana record out called Fading Light.

In The Bleak Midwinter – The Weather Station
Good job on making this song actually feel a bit bleak and midwintery, in the quiet delivery that feels a little like a Nico song (they also make records that look like it). This song came from 2010′s Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Deux free mix from some neighbs to the north.

Christmas Eve Can Kill You (The Everly Brothers) – Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Dawn McCarthy
I’m not sure anyone, ever, done better harmonies than the Everly Brothers, and Will Oldham nails it here with Dawn McCarthy, also his collaborator on The Letting Go. They make being stuck in the snow trying to hitchhike home almost sound good. And ooh, you can buy this song (and another) on 7″ vinyl now; I think it would sound real nice on the turntable this time of year.

Winter Eclipse – Beta Radio
These guys contributed “The Song The Season Brings” on last year’s December mix, and it was probably one of my most listened-to of the bunch. They’ve released another seasonal EP for free on Bandcamp this year.

The Gift of Grace – Denison Witmer
Denison remembers this song as one of his first experiments with home recording, and I remember it as one of my favorite original Christmas songs ever written; so pure, so clear. So humanizing. You might have recently seen this bit of majesty from Denison last week, alongside his longtime bud Sufjan Stevens (promoting Suf’s Friendship Slay Ride), and I think he should make me more holiday songs. Maybe in white spandex.

Winter’s Night – Joshua Hyslop
If it’s cold in Colorado, I hear it’s even colder in Canada, where Joshua Hyslop hails from, and his voice sounds like the way a warm sweater feels. I want to snuggle into it. Joshua’s debut record Where The Mountain Meets the Valley came out this year.

Bring A Little Light – Ben Kyle
I met Ben in 2007, along with his Minneapolis band Romantica, after a recording surfaced online of a duet he did with Ryan Adams, which wormed his music deeply into my ear. Ben is from Belfast with his lovely lilt, and has a solo record out now (featured on my MPLS mix). He sent me this haunting original for this mix.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – The Gundersen Family
I want to be around Noah and Abby and the rest of the Gundersens all the damn time. This is from their holiday party last year at the Fremont Abbey in Seattle. [watch]

Silent Night – Prairie Empire
And this one — this song is the sound of the deepest peace to me, in all of its forms.


July 22, 2011

Are you coming to the Underground Music Showcase this weekend?

Dear readers, I am home from my epic roadtrip adventure, well-sunned, well-loved, well-fed, and deeply grateful. In addition to lots of outdoor time with those who matter most to me, my path also crossed with wonderful several musicians, adding spatters of color to the late nights. As an adventure it ranks right up there with the best thing I’ve ever done.

Because I can’t stop/won’t stop, this weekend I am gearing up for the finest days in music that Denver has to offer all the livelong year at the Underground Music Showcase (UMS). The stretch of South Broadway that houses the Hi-Dive, Sputnik, Irish Rover, Skylark (etc) becomes an extended runway of jubilant, genre-crossing, warmly illuminated venues as art galleries, print shops, big ole churches, parking lots, and coffee shops all convert for the weekend into performance spaces.

Thousands of Denver music fans and bands both local and national are coming together to rock your face and perk up your ears. Wristbands for the entire weekend are only $40. Single day passes are also available in limited quantities each day on-site for $20.

Last night kicked off with some terrific artists (Nathan & Stephen, El Ten Eleven, Ha Ha Tonka) but you still have an insane amount of goodness to choose from as we hit our stride starting tonight. Here are some of my don’t-miss picks. Including that one song I am supposed to sing duet on, for my DENVER LIVE MUSIC DEBUT. Yes, really. Come cheer me on.


The Pirate Signal
Saturday at 7:30pm @ Goodwill parking lot stage

Yonnas is one of the most literate, spirited hip-hop artists I have ever known, and his live performances are legendary. As their Facebook says, The Pirate Signal sounds like: “That point when you’re having sex and your face goes numb and heart feels like it is going to burst out of your chest.” So, um, GO.

Their is also my theme song for the upcoming weekend:
I Can’t Wait – The Pirate Signal

Gardens and Villa
Friday 10pm @ Hi-Dive

Very recently, all my social media feeds have lit up with friends raving about this Santa Barbara band (signed to Secretly Canadian), saying that their live shows are dance-party frenzies unlike anything going. They also apparently carry a bag of flutes on their back. Even though it’s going to be a billion sweaty degrees in the Hi-Dive tonight by 10pm, that sounds like something I need.

Saturday at midnight @ 3 Kings Tavern

The soon-to-be-called-something-else band featuring Denver music friends like Andy Hamilton, Mike Marchant, Johnny Lundock, and Matthew Till has been one of my favorite musical representatives of our fair city for a while now. They just finished their darkly atmospheric Winter EP, rounding out a sonic year of seasonal bliss. They also put on a terrific show, so it’s a no-brainer.

Friday at midnight @ Hi-Dive

You know that super duper catchy song “When They Fight” that I put on my summer mix that sounds like a retro girl group (“I love you, bayyyyybayyyyyy”) but is actually two guys from Louisiana? Yeah well, they’re here tonight. Let’s go see them.

Old Canes
Saturday at 7pm @ 3 Kings

I’ve peppered several mixes with the percussive-heavy rattle and pop of Saddle Creek band Old Canes, the new project of Appleseed Cast frontman Chris Crisci. Their album that I still play constantly is called Feral Harmonic, and I find them to be both, marvelously.

Candy Claws
10pm Sunday at Delite

Named a “rising” band by Pitchfork, this Denver duo makes melodic and shimmery music inspired by lines from a Richard Ketchum book they found in a used bookshop and fed through Rad.


Iuengliss, 11pm Friday @ Delite (I love shaking my shit to Tommy Metz)

Fort Frances, 5pm Saturday at The Hornet (produced by Josh Ritter’s piano player Sam Kassirer, and a band that friends keep telling me to check out)

Denison Witmer, 10pm Friday at Moe’s BBQ (I love him so; watch for the Fuel/Friends Chapel Session we’re taping Sunday)

Gregory Alan Isakov, 8:15 Sunday at the Goodwill parking lot (because he is amazing)

The Centennial, 11pm Friday at 3 Kings (new band from the Meese brothers)

Saturday afternoon music panels The Sesh(I’m facilitating the Conversation with Duncan McKie who runs all the cool Canadian music funding programs)

A. Tom Collins (former frontman of Machine Gun Blues at 1am at the art deco Mayan? IN.)

Port Au Prince, 5pm Saturday at 3 Kings (new sounds from old friends in Astrophagus et al)

All the comedy at Sobo151 (Denver has some FUNNY COMICS)

Glass Hits, Friday 9pm @ 3 Kings (because they’re extremely loud and incredibly close) and their tightly-wound Fugazi tribute they’re reprising on Sunday at 10pm at 3 Kings.

Fairchildren, 5pm Saturday @ the South Broadway Christian Church / 7:30pm Sunday @ the Goodwill parking lot (Nathaniel Rateliff is not at the fest this year as far as I can tell, but the musicians that play with him will be, and their songs are based on fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm)

Panal SA de CV, 6pm Sunday @ Hi-Dive (Denver’s own anthemic instrumental rock band, reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky and other good things)

The H is O, 3pm Sunday @ the TS Board Shop (I’m gonna sing. I think.)

LET’S DO THIS, people.

Tagged with , .
May 15, 2011

brighten my northern sky

Northern Sky (Nick Drake) – Denison Witmer

been a long time that I’ve waited
been a long that I’ve known
been a long time that I’ve wondered through the people I have known

would you love me for my money? could you love me for my head?
would you love me through the winter?
would you love me till I’m dead?

oh, if you would and you could, come blow your horn on high


January 28, 2011

“Left My Heart In San Francisco” mix

Five years ago I moved out of the San Francisco Bay Area for the snowy, crisp mountains of Colorado. I absolutely love my adopted home, our vibrant music scene, and the fresh air here, but no foolin’ I do often long for my hometown hills.

Over the holidays I went to San Francisco for a week to stay at the Noe Valley apartment of friends who were out of town and graciously let me “housesit.” It was a part of town I had never stayed in before. When I first let myself into their empty place on Christmas evening, and walked out to their deck, I took in a sharp breath and smiled.

The first picture below is the desktop image I’ve had on my computer for the last two years, to remind me of my homeland:


…then these two are photos I took on Christmas from the deck where I was staying:

Christmas-NY 2010 076

Christmas-NY 2010 049

Same hill, same view as the one I’d been looking at daily for the last two years. It’s smile-inducing moments of kismet like that which reassure me no matter how far I roam from Pacific coast, it will keep finding me.

It finds me lately in the music that celebrates the Bay Area; I started this mix to accompany my recent trip, finishing it up after that view happened on into my life. These are songs with references to all the favorite, special parts of California that helped catalyze bits of me – loosely centered around San Francisco, San Jose, and places you can (and I did) drive to in an afternoon with some friends and a picnic basket.

Thirty songs for home.


San Francisco Bay Blues (Lost Tapes Vol 14) – John Lennon
Starting this mix just like my New York one, with John just screwing around on his guitar and somehow still sounding pretty perfect.

16th And Valencia Roxy Music – Devendra Banhart
Right on the edge of the Mission District, by the hundred-year-old artsy Roxie Theater, Devendra is taking us out to find our lovers tonight. Oh, and they’re gonna be riding six white horses and wearing pressed blue jeans, he suggests. But hey, this is SF. Go with it.

Piazza, New York Catcher – Belle & Sebastian
Not at all about NYC, but the story of a love affair set throughout the city of San Francisco, hanging about the stadium where the Giants and Mets will play, the Tenderloin, borrowed bedrooms virginal and spare. Meet you at the statue in an hour.

California On My Mind – Wild Light
Something a reader recommended for this mix, this is absolutely one of my favorite new songs, even if the core songwriting lyric is a repeated refrain of “fuck today, fuck San Francisco, fuck California” with a “…fuck Oakland” thrown in later for good measure. The rousing harmonica and the charmingly awkward vocals are enough to win me, and I’m sure we’ve done enough jerky things to deserve a little rancor.

San Jose – Joe Purdy
I never knew this song when I lived in San Jose (my address was always a San Jose one except for when I was in college, when it moved over a few zip codes) but it sounds like a warm, Ray LaMontagne-style blues & organ song that I’ve just always known.

Roots Radical – Rancid
Took the 60 bus out of downtown Campbell, Ben Zanotto he was on there, he was waiting for me.” Campbell’s border is about a mile from the edge of my high school, and Rancid had origins at the neighboring high school. I totally took the 60 bus to Great America amusement park, and I also wonder if Ben Zanotto’s dad was the same guy who started the neat Zanotto’s grocery markets in town, like a prototype Trader Joe’s.

(Wake Me Up) In San Francisco – The Welcome Matt
I fittingly first heard this on a sampler from the epic KFOG radio station, and it always makes me smile, especially if I can listen to it as the song suggests, while driving in over the Bay Bridge, or landing in SFO on a big jet plane. This song namechecks so many great places, as it talks about how going home never gets old.

San Francisco – Brett Dennen
Brett is from the Central California town of Oakdale, between Escalon and Jamestown on 108, a route I have driven often enough to see why he pictures himself buying a navy peacoat and moving to SF. This is such a charming love letter to the city, we’ll allow him to be on this mix even though he is an Oakland A’s fan: “Over in the Mission it’s always a sunny day / there’s a real good baseball town but my team is across the Bay.”

Hail Mary – Pomplamoose
Not only is this husband-wife duo from Corte Madera (north of SF), but this catchy pop tune sings of driving down to San Jose at ninety miles per hour, has clattery, stick-in-your-head percussion, and their band name is modeled after the French word for grapefruit. What’s not to like?

Santa Clara – The National
Santa Clara is where I went to college and then worked for five years, and where my grandma still lives in the same house on Brannan Place that she’s been in for 50 years — so I was pretty excited to find this National b-side. It is gorgeous by any standards, even aside from how it hits the home parts of my heart.

Snow In San Anselmo – Van Morrison
Van gets a bit meandering here on this seven+ minute tune, but it feels appropriate for the kind of cold night he describes in this small town in Marin County, across the Golden Gate from SF. “The classic music station plays soft and low . . . and the pancake house is always open 24 hours a day / my waitress said it was coming down, said it hadn’t happened in over thirty years.” I remember snow maybe once in all my years in the Bay Area, and this song is mighty evocative.

San Geronimo – Red House Painters
Then just along the boulevard from San Anselmo is the town of San Geronimo, where Kozelak sings of “somewhere up fifteen miles sifting through crackling vinyl / lost memories of my youth are coming into view… weekend in San Geronimo, love how the starlit skies show.” Red House Painters were from San Francisco, so they get double point placement on this mix for that. They know the landscape well, and I could have picked any number of their tunes but this one is special.

California, Pt. 2 – Mason Jennings
Possibly my favorite of all Mason Jennings songs, about packing a box of books and a guitar into the back of a pickup and moving to CA — not Los Angeles (“I’m staying far away from there”) but moving “north of San Francisco into the cleaner air / I’m gonna get a little land with the money I’ve saved, buy a little house that I can work on / where the next nearest neighbor lives miles away, I’ll never have to mow the lawn. Right on.” Sounds absolutely perfect to me.

El Caminos In The West – Grandaddy
Jason Lytle is from Modesto, California, and so even though I realize this song may well be about the stylin’ car the El Camino, I prefer to imagine it as singing about the El Camino Real, the King’s Highway that stretches the length of the state and used to bind together all the mission churches in the state’s earliest days.

Palo Alto – Radiohead
With bleeps and bloops fitting the technological mecca this “city of the future” has become (from Hewlett Packard to Facebook) Radiohead sings an ode to Palo Alto with a pervasive feeling of alienation. But I mean, seriously, Radiohead wrote a song about them. They can’t complain.

Oakland on a Rainy Day – Jake Troth
This Bay Area songwriter writes great, humble, satisfying songs and this is no exception. There’s nearly nothing I love more than Oakland (or San Francisco, or San Jose, or Santa Cruz) on a rainy day. When I was in SF over the holidays, it poured on Tuesday night and I just opened the windows and sat in the dark and listened and smelled that rain smell. We don’t get that in Colorado much.

27th Ave Shuffle – Foxboro Hot Tubs
A 2008 side project of seminal Berkeley band Green Day, this song rocks us down 27th Avenue (which bisects Golden Gate Park and runs on up through the Richmond) and I think references jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge which of course is something we do not recommend. But this song, yes.

Rendezvous Potrero Hill – Architecture in Helsinki
Let’s pause for a little autumnal instrumental interlude dedicated to this San Francisco neighborhood, home to both Anchor Steam Brewery and the Mythbusters folks, so you know it has to be good.

Grace Cathedral Hill – The Decemberists
A new year’s day spent in this, one of SF’s most gorgeous cathedrals, lighting little white candles and then heading north to the Hyde Street Pier — “And the world may be long for you, but it’ll never belong to you / but on a motorbike when all the city lights blind your eyes tonight, are you feeling better now?” Yup.

Highway 101 – Social Distortion
One of our most maddening or beautiful highways, depending on which stretch of it you find yourself on, and what time to day. I picked this song over Albert Hammond Jr’s “Back To The 101″ because everyone knows that only Southern Californians add the “the.”

Moon Over Marin – Dead Kennedys
One of San Francisco’s most famous punk bands sing about pollution in the North Bay, decades before the Cosco Busan spill. The band was formed after guitarist East Bay Ray saw a punk/ska show at San Francisco’s legendary Mabuhay Gardens, met Jello Biafra and the rest of the band, and yelled their way into our city’s history.

Got To Have It – Soul President
From the Numero Group’s marvelous Eccentric Soul re-release series, this steel drum-peppered track was originally put out on a tiny San Francisco imprint Uptight Records in the ’60s. There’s all kind of painfully funky shoutouts here to the Haight Ashbury, laced liberally with “unh!”s. Being this cool hurts.

The Chapter of Your Life Entitled San Francisco – The Lucksmiths
This Australian band laments a friend who has moved off to our temperate Bay Area climes, and won’t even write postcards home during the long summer, so taken is she with the charms of the city by the Bay. It happens.

Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far) – The Thrills
One thing I probably miss the most here in the landlocked square I now call home is the inability to pack up the car with a few essentials and drive south over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz, the beachtown that was once so close and so appreciated. The Thrills are from nowhere near California (Dublin, actually) but the first two songs on their 2002 album So Much For The City talk about California coastal towns so convincingly, you’d think they were from here too.

Big Dipper – Cracker
David Lowery’s earlier band Camper Van Beethoven was centered in Santa Cruz, and this melancholy song compares life to entering the long tunnel and the curve leading into the iconic Big Dipper, the wooden rollercoaster at the Beach Boardwalk (from the top you can “see Monterey, or think about San Jose”). I know it well. Lowery also sings of sitting on the Cafe Zinho steps, an ’80s landmark which was destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and watching all the world go by.

San Andreas Fault – Natalie Merchant
Speaking of destruction caused by the ’89 quake, this fault is the meeting of the plates that caused it. I was ten and I was begrudgingly cleaning my room so that I could join the rest of my family in watching the World Series Game 3 that was starting, Giants vs A’s in a cross-the-Bay pairing. This video of the baseball coverage that night makes me smile to see old Candlestick full, but remembering how sunny that day was makes my stomach hurt.

San Francisco Blues – Stephen Fretwell
I’ve loved Fretwell since I first heard the devastatingly perfect “Emily,” and even moreso when he put this song on his 2007 album Man On The Roof. Originally from Manchester, England, he joins a long line of Brits who have fallen in love with the city.

California Brown and Blue – Denison Witmer
Everything about this song cuts me, we’ll just leave it at that. “Weightless in the arms of the Golden Gate… I leave before we find out what it means.”

Sausalito - Conor Oberst
Conor pens a rollicking number with deceptively wrenching lyrics set in the gorgeous seaside town of Sausalito, which I remember a specific gorgeous March day spent walking around in after taking the ferry up from SF. “Hair blowing in the hot wind, time hanging from a clothespin…” He thinks we should move to a houseboat and let the ocean rock us back and forth to sleep. Yes.

(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay (ripped from vinyl) – Otis Redding
Perhaps one of the most famous songs written in and about our Bay (other than, you know, Journey), Otis penned this one night on a houseboat docked in that same Sausalito, while he was in town to play San Francisco’s famous Fillmore. Everything about that sentence, I love.


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry or smile widely (sometimes at the same time) while making this mix.

[help on this mix from several friends from the Bay Area, including pal/SF resident/musician Matt Nathanson, Ken Shipley of Numero Group and my high school, Rand Foster of Long Beach’s epic Fingerprints Record Store and neighboring rival high school,and fellow SF blogger Adrian who also rocked some of the best suggestions on the Stomp/Clap Mix. Y’all do your city proud.]

August 23, 2010

Rivers and roads, rivers and roads… rivers til I reach you

I’ve spent the last five days immersed in green forests and small cafes, breathing the salty seaside air, and quenching my parched insides in the Pacific Northwest. The dampness clinging to my skin as I stood at the foot of these waterfalls and harbors and rivers made me glow fresh, in the same way the joy kinda got put back into my soul.

thathMy completely fitting soundtrack for this last-summer-hurrah adventure was the new album from Seattle’s The Head And The Heart, which is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite albums this year.

I wrote about how they “sound like hallelujah” at the beginning of the summer, included another song of theirs on my summer mix, and then happily ran into the band on my birthday last Thursday night on a Seattle street corner. They gave me a physical copy of their insanely catchy album, and I listened to it about eight times through this weekend on the road. When I unlocked the door to my still and quiet house tonight, I found myself hungrily googling any new songs that they might have for me, not on the record (since I’ve kind of already worn a digital groove into it).

What I found was this.

It hit me in a profound way. I’ve heard that The Head and The Heart are complete supernovas live, but this – this felt like a moment almost too iridescent to be privy to by secondhand video. An aftershow in a Tacoma parking garage, it’s everything I love about music and about them.

At three minutes in, the spotlight hits directly opposite the camera, and in a flash they are illuminated all around, lit as if from within — as if this pure music they are pouring out of their hearts and hands and stomping feet is making them (and all of us) shine like the last lightning bugs of summer.

Rivers and Roads (parking garage mix) – The Head and The Heart

I feel kinda speechless.

Aug 27 – KEXP’s Mural Amphitheater Show [w/ Mt St Helen Vietnam Band], Seattle, WA
Aug 28 – Tractor Tavern [w/ Grand Hallway], Seattle, WA
Sep 11 – Berbati’s Pan [for MusicFest NW], Portland, OR
Sep 15 – Downtown Crossing, Sandpoint, ID
Sep 16 – Empyrean Coffee [w/ Denison Witmer], Spokane, WA
Sep 18 – Urban Lounge [w/ The Devil Whale, Future of the Ghost, Matt Hopper], Salt Lake City, UT
Sep 23 – The Crocodile [w/ Fences & Campfire OK], Seattle, WA
Sep 24 – Mississippi Studios [w/ Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives & Fences], Portland, OR
Sep 25 – The Green Frog [w/ Fences], Bellingham, WA
Sep 27 – The Biltmore Cabaret [w/ Fences], Vancouver, BC
Oct 4 – Silverlake Lounge [w/ Fences], (early show), Los Angeles, CA
Oct 6 – The Rickshaw Stop [w/ Fences], San Francisco, CA
Oct 7 – Sophia’s Thai Kitchen [w/ Fences], Davis, CA
Oct 8 – Sam Bond’s Garage [w/ Fences], Eugene, OR

They are also announcing more dates in the coming months, including — a show at Moe’s in Denver on November 5th (next to the Gothic), which will be presented by Fuel/Friends! Stay tuned here for more information and a ticket giveaway.

My stars — get this album.

EDIT: Another version here.

October 2, 2009

let me borrow his old winter coat


All of the talk about the spacey free-jazz wonk on Sufjan Stevensnew songs reminded me of some favorite collaborations he’s worked on in the past, like the humble harmonies of his duets with Rosie Thomas.

Say Hello (rough mix) – Rosie Thomas & Sufjan Stevens

There’s a childlike vulnerability and very grown-up beauty in Rosie’s voice, and listening to it tonight reminds me of many many nights last winter when I’d sit in semi-darkness with only her voice playing softly, achingly on the wood-grain stereo.

rosiethomasShe’s been making music for several years now, sometimes with Sub Pop Records, and has worked with a handful of those sensitive musician fellas I love like Damien Jurado, Sufjan, and Denison Witmer.

This song was on the Say Hello EP, with the finished version on These Friends Of Mine (2007).

January 15, 2009

Will Johnson (Centro-matic) sings an Obama love song


There hasn’t really been an indie rock smash hit song about U.S. presidencies since … well, ever as far as I know. The guys over at iGIF are nerds (nerds I love, at that) who have a series called History Mixery which always titillates me, but other than that no one’s covering this material, man.

No one that is except the trio of J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer, and Jefferson Pitcher. These songwriters decided to write one tune about each U.S. president in a concerted effort during February Album Writing Month in 2006, emerging from the history book stacks with piles of demos.

These songs had fantastic titles like, “John Adams (Armed with Only Wit and the Vigor of the U.S. Navy)” and my favorite “William Howard Taft (There Was No Longer Use to Hide the Fact That It Was Gout).”

Obama clearly needs his own song to add to this effort, so with the help of Will Johnson (of Centro-matic) they’ve added the following  — a truly lovely tune, but then again, I so adore Will’s marvelously aching voice:

Obama (Someone To Wake) – Will Johnson / Christian Kiefer

Of Great And Mortal Men (43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidencies) is available via the Standard Recording Company. You can see the full tracklisting of the physical album here; it includes artists like These United States, Denison Witmer, Rosie Thomas, Mark Kozelek and Califone:

Andrew Jackson (Benevolence) – featuring Califone

And for those living in our nation’s capital during these exciting times, the new Will Johnson/Obama song will be unveiled live this Saturday the 17th at Washington DC’s Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in a big concert featuring many of the artists on the album, and more.

December 19, 2008

Your Naughty/Nice Christmas mix

Christmas is coming and kids are having fun (so said the chorus of my fifth grade play “Shaping Up Santa,” for which I still know all the words and thankfully no longer have to wear the green elf costume).

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year because of the overabundance of really bad, synthy, jingly, repetitive Christmas music that bombards me at every pass. But tonight I was listening to my friend Dainon‘s superb radio show out of Salt Lake City and he filled two and a half hours with the kind of Christmas music that reminds me why I do love it.

I tend towards the melancholy, the meaningful, the achingly pretty at this time of year, and tonight’s show inspired me to finally put the finishing touches on my own mix of music for the season. Twenty-five songs to get at the goodness under the busy surface this time of year. Enjoy.

No Christmas For Me – Zee Avi (new Malaysian artist I’m excited about)
Joy To The World – Clem Snide
Christmas Is Coming Soon – Blitzen Trapper
Egg Nog – Luna
It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop – Frightened Rabbit
It Won’t Seem Like Christmas Without You (alternate take 6) – Elvis Presley
Christmas TV – Slow Club
Sweet Secret Peace – Neil Finn
Xmas Time Is Here Again – My Morning Jacket
Gift X-Change – Calexico
This Christmastime – Mascott & Gramercy Arms
The Secret of Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald
Christmas – Leona Naess
Just Like Christmas – Low
Song For A Winter’s Night (Gordon Lightfoot) – Erica Wheeler
Icicles – Let’s Go Sailing [from the Plastic Snow compilation]
Goin Home For Christmas – Nicolai Dunger
Goin Home For Christmas – Merle Haggard
Snowfall – Josh Rouse
The First Noel – Pedro The Lion
Please Come Home For Christmas – Willie Nelson
The Gift of Grace – Denison Witmer
New Year’s Resolution – Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
Winter Wonderland – Radiohead
Silent Night – Evan Dando


If you want even more Christmas music, the excellent WXPN out in Philly is hosting 12 Days Of Christmas with local bands and free mp3s each day. Ten down, two to go, check it out.

Merry Christmas.

[image from the fabulous Anne Taintor]

November 29, 2008

Fuel/Friends is three!

Hey guys, remember that time my blog hit the third birthday mark and I didn’t notice? Last week marked three years of Fuel/Friends’ existence, and in those thousand-plus days we have had a lot of fun.

As I say continually and every year around this time, I am humbled that you stop by to see what I am listening to or reading or exploring, and it has been my distinct pleasure to unearth some sonic gems for your enrichment and mine.

In keeping with tradition, here are twenty songs from Year 3 that have been high on my list of radness and worth parading past one more time as we embark on our fourth year. As I began going through my monthly archives I thought the culling might be difficult, but as always, several effortlessly effervesced to the top, and this is a list I feel great about.

Make sure that you didn’t miss these the first time around; burn yourself a CD with these twenty, and let’s celebrate another year.

One Crowded Hour (with orchestra) – Augie March
A few days into Fuel/Friends Year 3, I posted a gorgeous set from melodic and wistful Australians Augie March, playing a set with a full orchestra. I wrote, “Already literate and lavish, their songs become absolutely something else in this setting. ‘One Crowded Hour’ makes me want to climb inside of it even more than before. What an elegant, evocative, soaring song.” Some of the best lyrics of the year, too. [Nov 23, 2007]

Frankie’s Gun – Felice Brothers
Even now, every single time the wheezy opening notes of this song cue up, a wide smile spreads across my face. The Felice Brothers are from the Catskills in NY, and there’s a raw and unfinished sound to their storytelling brand of folk-americana. I wrote that “as you sit with them, the colors of their music start to come out in a warm rich burn, like a campfire at 2am. Very few artists write stories like this anymore, except for folks like Ray LaMontagne or the Hold Steady, in very different-sounding ways. Their vivid music is populated by characters with names like Long-Legged Brenda, and take the listener along on all kinds of wild narratives that echo Dylan in their complexity and seeming unsingability.” I absolutely adore this song; seeing them do it live in SF was a highlight of my summer. [Jan 18, 2008]

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Oh, Nick Cave had me wrapped around his finger this year. After seeing him throw down the rock ‘n’ roll fire and brimstone in September, I have been converted on a religious-fanatic level. This ace song is a “danceable apocalpyse,” and in order to properly appreciate it, you simply must watch the music video. HOW does he do that? Nick Cave is the most effortlessly cool mofo in music today (and for the last thirty years). [Jan 21, 2008]

Nothing – The Hands
The Hands are from the Pacific Northwest, and there’s something “slightly off and unnerving in the melody and rhythm here – just a half-second syncopated, or too fast. Either way, it feels like about seven cups of coffee in the morning: all jittery and yowling, but anchored by a classic rockin’ feel with those dead-ringer Jaggeresque vocals. I want to keep replaying the opening notes to figure out what’s going on there in those first thirty seconds.” [Jan 28, 2008]

Monk Chant – The Monks
A recommendation from a friend sent me on a historical dig into the music of The Monks from the mid-’60s, American G.I.s stationed in Germany whose sound was leagues ahead of the era and laid the groundwork for the punk and rock I love today. “There’s an urgency and an animal primacy to the music that belies the sweaters and the bobby socks of 1965,” and this crazy tribal chant and electric feedback swamp gets my blood running hot. [Jan 31, 2008]

You Left The Water Running – Otis Redding
One of my favorite dork-concept mixes this past year was loosely based around a kids book called That’s Dangerous!, and following the model of the book, I soundtracked all sorts of bad ideas and the grown-up trouble we can get ourselves into. I wasn’t familiar with this Otis Redding song before, but from the opening countdown and that bewitching thump of melody, this soulful burner is one of my favorites to sing along with when I feel that somebody done me wrong.
[Feb 2, 2008]

Grounds for Divorce – Elbow
I was recently reacquainted with this fabulous song from Manchester rockers Elbow that starts off as a subdued tale about “working on a cocktail called Grounds For Divorce,” then explodes into “a haunting, gospelly blues track with a guttural punch and stomp.” I love being surprised by the way it shimmers with almost-glam overtones. [Feb 11, 2008]

Rat Within The Grain (b-side) – Damien Rice
One day before leap year, I posted one of the best songs Damien Rice has written, overlooked by the world as a b-side but amazingly piercing and terribly sad, soaked in a wistful bitterness. An intensely personal song for me, it “gouges pretty harshly at the softest parts of my insides, as his jaded self-contempt seeps into the tender, almost-hidden professions of a maybe hopeless kind of love. In one long sentence, he goes from wanting to keep her at arm’s length because he knows that parts of him are a turbulent ocean, and wanting so much to be wonderful in her eyes.” [Feb 28, 2008]

Circus of Horror – Quiet Village
“Sometimes a song sneaks up on you and surprises you with the way it insinuates entire cinescapes in your mind. That picture above belongs with another film, but it is a vague representation of the colors, the era, the intrigue that this song (by Quiet Village) conjures up for me. This seems a perfect soundtrack to a forgotten ’60s Italian spy movie — a little campy but sleek, ready for some fast driving down narrow cobbled streets. Or perhaps you can hear a change of locales with a dash of cool saunter down the Miami waterline, scoping out the sinister antagonist.” [April 17, 2008]

Lovely Allen – Holy Fuck
This was the year I finally discovered Coachella for myself, and one of the live highlights was seeing Toronto’s Holy Fuck create this song urgent and perfect inside one of the shady tents. “My mind was sent reeling by their brand of lo-fi improvisational electronica, which was anything but sterile. Watching them pour their hearts into their music, doubled over their machines, radiating intensity — and then hearing the warmly soaring sounds that emerge — made me reconsider what’s possible with that genre.” They closed their set with this marvelous song, and “I know it sounds a bit hyperbolic, but for those final five minutes my soul levitated a little.”
[May 4, 2008]

The Only Moment We Were Alone (live in SF) – Explosions In The Sky
This was also the year I first heard Austin, Texas’ Explosions In The Sky, a band that “tells amazing stories through songs which happen to lack words.” A live recording of their epic show in SF conjured up a half-dreamt vignette in my mind that is still one of my favorite things I wrote this year. Maybe the earth is not a cold, dead place after all. [May 6, 2008]

Gratification To Concrete – Robert Pollard
Former Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard made huge waves in my kiddie pool at the beginning of summer with this “monster jam of a summer pop song.” I’m still not sick of this, two seasons later. I originally cautioned that “this will work best if you don’t try to understand Pollard’s lyrics but just enjoy the crunchy riffs at play.” ‘Bout time concrete got some gratification. [May 12, 2008]

Soul on Fire – Spiritualized
“This back-with-a-vengeance song from seminal British space rock/shoegaze ’90s band Spiritualized starts gently over an intimate acoustic strum, with lyrics about being born on a black day shot through with starlight. But before the first minute passes, all the strings swell and rise together and there’s a hurricane in your veins. It’s terrifically stirring yet somehow comforting, as if I’ve heard it a thousand times before and want to be a part of it. It’s a tour-bus singalong, it’s a gospel choir, it’s a ballad just for me.” [June 9, 2008]

Seven Fingers – Black Francis
‘I was born with seven fingers and seven toes, in my dark face sadness always shows,’ claims the thumping, thrumming acousto-punk title track from Black Francis; a tasty return to classic form for the former frontman for The Pixies. It’s only one minute and forty seven seconds long, but it is addictively refreshing as he sings, ‘Tonight I’ll be with you, and in the morning when we’re through, please know that you have helped me with my pain.’ Tunes like this’ll numb it for me too — it makes me feel as happy as I did that summer when I was 14 and listened to the Violent Femmes on cassette nonstop through June and July.” [June 21, 2008]

I Woke Up Today – Port O’Brien
This tune from Oakland’s Port O’Brien is easily one of the most vibrant tunes of my aural year. When I saw it performed without amplification in an SF Diesel Store happy hour in February, “the spirit in the air was nothing less than jubilant. I would even call it riotous as people sang along, the percussion beat at full-force, and the vocals keeled into an almost war chant. That mood of spur-of-the-moment explosion was fitting because it’s a song that feels chaotic and wonderful.” [June 22, 2008]

No Water – Hearts of Palm
Since I first posted this superb song in preview of the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase this summer, I’ve seen it performed live by Hearts of Palm approximately seventeen times in various venues throughout Denver — and it’s always a fantastic uprising of crowd participation. It makes me puff up inside to hear the momentum behind the song, the way everyone sings along above that bouncy bassline, and “how enthusiastically the band gives back to us all.” They always perform with joy, and this is one local band that is going places. [July 17, 2008]

Trees – Everest
In quiet moments for the last six months, the “muted Buddy Holly classic vibe with autumnal colors” of this song from Everest streams through my head on repeat. I’d heard it somewhere and learned it enough to hum the melody, but then forgot to write down who it was and promptly forgot. After rediscovering it, I’ll never let go (Jack). It’s a lovely, humble, halcyon song and I still feel perfect when I am listening to it. [July 28, 2008]

Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare – Matt and Kim
“Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim turned in one of the single most enthusiastic performances that I saw at Monolith last year, a cataclysmic explosion of spirited yelling and jubilant rhythm. This shiny song opens with such a sunny simplicity that it could be one of those homemade ditties you would compose on your new Casio keyboard on Christmas morning, using the program function and your siblings’ handclaps for backup percussion.” It also sounds like a whole army of awesomeness stomping their feet and clapping in a warehouse in the “We Will Rock You” of today. [Sept 1, 2008]

Get Yourself Home (In Search of The Mistress Whose Kisses Are Famous) – These United States
“The most recent Colorado show that Washington D.C.’s These United States played was at a farm party for Labor Day out near Nimbus Road and Diagonal Highway in Niwot. I hear the two things that existed in some abundance were farmland and alcohol. This sounds like the kind of band that you could have a lot of fun with in those doses. There’s a rustic folk charm here with a feisty and jittery thread weaving through this that would make M Ward proud.” An excellent album this year. [Sept 22, 2008]

I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover) – Denison Witmer
Philadelphia artist Denison Witmer self-released an inspired set of covers this year, and I keep on letting this Bonnie Raitt cover rip into me. It’s worth a few minutes of your time “even if you haven’t given Bonnie Raitt much thought since you (like my sister) sang this song in Girls Choir in high school.” This reimagining of Raitt’s 1991 song “starts with a settling in a room; you can hear the grey empty space starkly bouncing back his plaintive, resigned voice. It is an absolutely devastating song, and especially the way he does it — all void and defeated.” [Oct 13, 2008]

On that note….

And hey — I am absolutely looking forward to year four! Thank you (sincerely) for playing along. What have been your favorite discoveries here this past year? I do so love to hear about it.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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