December 23, 2014

Carry me home, with a choir to greet us

MP3: Carry Me Home (with Choir! Choir! Choir!) – Hey Rosetta!

As if the original version of “Carry Me Home” from Hey Rosetta! wasn’t already one of the best new Christmas-song standards written in the last few years, Tim Baker has to go and sing it with a whole choir of folks. All my seasonal soft spots, stimulated.

I first posted the original in my 2012 Christmas mix, which is still up for the downloading (along with all past years’ mixes). No new Christmas mix this year (I know, I miss it too), but that handful of Chapel Session stocking stuffers starts tomorrow, with Small Houses!

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December 22, 2014

Damien Rice in a synagogue in San Francisco (October 7, 2014)


It’s the time of year when I have some time to swim around in music because the college where I work is closed in between terms. Brace yourselves for a bunch of good stuff in the next two weeks while I am off work — in addition to plans for a “Holiday Bundle” of up to four new Chapel Sessions (!!!), I have some incredible live recordings that a magical show-recording elf who goes simply by the initial “B” sends to my mailbox with little notes of care from the San Francisco Bay Area.

In this week’s mail I received a stunning recording of Damien Rice playing in the Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco – a magnificent Classical Romanesque synagogue built in 1904 and covered in gorgeous frescoes. The setlist to this show is fucking incredible. Damien Rice has the ability to transport me back to a very specific time in my life, a very raw time (“Accidental Babies” has got to be one of the most brutally bittersweet songs I know) and this show just was just song after song after song of that exquisiteness.

From the first song, “Eskimo,” when he starts howling, I was overcome with chills all up and down my spine. This is a very powerful show; even though these songs are old, they are undiluted. I did the thing that I do when a song really flattens me, and that is: I let it. I lay right in the center of the wooden floor in my kitchen where the stereo is and let the song do its work. Sometimes I sing along.

Holy shit, this show.

crowd choir on Volcano

LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO: Congregation Sherith Israel
October 7, 2014
Taped by B

Woman Like A Man
9 Crimes
The Greatest Bastard
The Professor & La Fille Danse
Grey Room
Rootless Tree
I Remember
Volcano –> When Doves Cry (Prince)

The Blower’s Daughter
Cheers Darlin’
Accidental Babies


The enclosed postcard: Thanks, B.
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I am seeing Damien on April 17 in Boulder. If this is at all what I have to look forward to…

[show photos borrowed from Irene Hsu, Stanford]

December 10, 2014

My 2014 Song of the Year: “Dearly Departed”

This is far and away my (syncopated-clapping, toe-tapping, driving along with the windows down singing harmonies at the top of my lungs) favorite song of 2014. Shakey Graves has shown up on this blog before, first with his tune “Late July” on the Summer 2012 mix, and his co-conspirator here Esmé Patterson (formerly of the Denver band Paper Bird) is someone whose music I have long admired.

There is a deeply delightful, timeless joy in a good clever duet.

Dearly Departed (featuring Esmé Patterson) – Shakey Graves

This video is the absolute best–when was the last time you saw two musicians having this much genuine fun?


Shakey Graves plays our Ivywild School Sunday night, along with Esmé. It will be the final show I booked for the Ivywild, and I can’t wait to hear these songs live in that space.

The entire new album And The War Came is tremendous; highly recommended.


October 7, 2014

if it gets too lonely, i will follow you ’round in this tune


I’ve been head over heels for Noah Gundersen for a few years now, ever since being completely spun around and knocked to the ground by him live at a few summer festivals, and then really getting into all his recordings, old and new. His songs are a piercing blend of harmony (with his sister, no less) and wide-openness to a world that’s not always easy to be wide open in.

Noah says of this song (and I 100% agree):

Lay Low is one of those songs that has a habit of finding its way into my subconscious and staying there. While driving around on tour, loading up the van after shows, during the rare quiet moments in a green room, the lyrics and the melody would rise up and start repeating over and over in my head.

There is a loneliness throughout it. An admittance of frailty. An acceptance of our small and mortal lives, where we really don’t know what it all means. But through it all, a small yet resounding spark of hope and love. I’m honored to call Michael and Cary Ann friends. I hope this cover does their beautiful composition justice.

Lay Low (Shovels & Rope) – Noah Gundersen

Here is the acoustic version at Pickathon from the original artists, the terrific duo of Shovels & Rope. It was part of my Autumn 2012 mix, and I still often put this version of it on repeat.

Lay Low (live at Pickathon) – Shovels & Rope

I am pretty excited to be welcoming Noah Gundersen to the Ivywild School next weekend, on Saturday October 18, as part of his fall tour in support of the magnificent Ledges. If you’re in Colorado, please come! If not, here are your other tour date options. This kid is the real deal.



[top portrait by Ben Blood]

September 2, 2014

You, in three songs

Hey, you. We haven’t talked in a while because my life is going really well, overflowing full of promotions at work and adventures in life and love. And grad school, which is none of the above, but interesting and gratifying and a lot of work. It’s nice to be here tonight.

A friend shared an assignment with me for a music class he is working on, a get-to-know-you essay asking students to pick three songs (any genre) that most accurately speak to who you are. Make your case as to why these three songs, he said. Game on, I said. This is way more fun than reading development theory. I thought you might like to read my musings that I just sent back to him, and I’d love to hear yours.

Heather Browne
Sept 2, 2014

I have an over-identification problem with songs. It’s ravaged me my whole life, from the time I first listened to “American Pie” and felt deeply, weirdly sad — off in some strange monumental place that I didn’t have any personal experience with, but I nonetheless understood. “A long, long time ago, I can still remember how the music used to make me smile.” Has there ever been a more perfect opening line for a song, or a sadder one? I didn’t know, but I wanted to figure it out. I then proceeded to listen to that song on a cassette tape that I taped off the radio, roughly 1352 times that year between elementary school and middle school. The day the music died? What a terrible thing for my eleven year-old brain to try and empathize with. I felt it, man, especially in those elegiac closing piano notes on the last verse.

So the assigned task of picking three songs that most accurately describe me is not difficult from lack of choices. If we could pause on different points in my life, I could have felt summed up by “Vogue,” (Madonna, fifth grade, bangle bracelets) “Man In A Box,” (Alice in Chains, trying to impress a dude), any number of terrrrrible Christian rap songs that still sometimes get inexplicably stuck in my head (like this morning: the entire bridge, mind you), and real sad heartbreakers by Ryan Adams or The National, for crying in your coffee when love is gone and you’re just a big shimmering ghost of snot and sadness. I am an excruciatingly active walking songbook, most days. Wouldn’t trade it.

But: game, set, match Professor. I’ll give you three songs.

Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam

One of the transformative functions of music in my life so far has been to uproot me from the ground I felt was home, to give me something to rebel with, something to flip off the establishment with, and crowdsurf to in my Doc Martens at a Cracker concert when I was fourteen. Not that I suffered any great indignities that I needed escape from (except maybe the aforementioned Christian rap), but that separating seems to be one of the most natural (and essential) growing pains that music can shove us into and then ease us through. For American youth this is a leitmotif we all recognize, from lindy-hopping in scandalously short skirts, to watching Elvis gyrate and screaming over the Beatles, to turning on / tuning in / dropping out.

As for me, I got to be fourteen in 1993 and rage against the machine with Pearl Jam, much to the slight bemusement of my parents. The second Pearl Jam album Vs. was the first CD I ever bought (after having Ten on cassette), and something in me electrified and woke up roaring, even if I didn’t exactly know yet where that roar came from. I immediately became not just a huge fan, but the best fan. Although long lapsed now, I can still recite my official Ten Club fan club number: 50792. I once spent all $200 in my savings account to buy a single scalped ticket to see them play a secret show in Santa Cruz billed as The Honking Seals. In those nascent days of dial-up internet, I joined an internet list-serv and posted to message boards, participated in tape trees to distribute and share live recordings of shows because in those songs I found a sort-of closed eyed bliss. I knew alternate endings and unreleased versions and one time my dad stymied my youthful rebellion to take me all the way to San Diego to see them live in concert (after Eddie Vedder got sick at Golden Gate Park and cancelled the next leg of the tour much to my utter ruination).

As a hard-scavenged b-side in the days when b-sides were much more difficult to find, this song always felt like mine from the first time I heard it; enigmatic and bluesy and undeniably beautiful. It is, at its core, a fumbling, sweet mess of a song that glitters with a sort of hope that all the teenage angst could never quite beat out of me. This song is how I felt inside at fifteen, and maybe it is how a lot of me still feels. When I listen to it even now, the roundness of the notes always hang there golden in front of me, like nothing could ever get better. Who knows …maybe it never can.

Mary – Patty Griffin
Even though I kept the battered brown Doc Martens, I pretty quickly jumped myself from teenage rebellion and on into marriage, and then into parenting a wonderful sweet little boy who joined me in 2003.
I was fascinated the first time I heard this song because of all the hidden layers of a human being that it flays apart. In this instance, it happens to have religious allegorical tones, and we happen to be talking about a mother – one of the most archetypal of all women and all mothers. But really, to me, it is a song about how none of us are ever just one thing, or even a handful of easily-identifiable things. Being a young mother and then a single mother and then an adventurous single mother roaring out on her own joyful and terrified, most of the images I’m handed aren’t me. This song is a litany of all the things that Mary is covered in, so much so that we can’t quite even see her face anymore – just a ideally-shaped collection of roses and ashes and babies and wilderness and stains. And yet, there is a quiet and very honest dignity to the work of caring that she does, with far-reaching consequences in the world around her. It’s a beautiful and complicated transformation, isn’t it? A lot of this song feels like my twenties. Somewhere in the really deep loveliness of this song, there is something of me.

Ragazzo Fortunato – Jovanotti
In addition to the Pearl Jam that spurred me to start a music blog (named after one of their lyrics), and the glossy wide river that motherhood has gratefully carved through the middle of my decades here on earth, it was the months I have spent studying and living in Italy that forever altered both what I do for a living and the way I see beauty in the world. I knew the first time I started studying the mellifluous language that rolled over tongues like love itself (or maybe lust), and the first time I saw the powerful, bright brushstrokes of Michelangelo – I was a goner. I wanted to sink back into this culture, laying down under the water and feeling the rush and the release. I’ve spent some damn good times in that water – learning how to express what I wanted to say in a new language, forging friendships, seeing things through very different eyes, and hell – even getting to interview Italian mega-star Jovanotti himself at sunset on a Southern California beach (twenty-year-old Heather is still dying over that one).

Yet, for all the beauty of the language, let’s be unequivocally clear: this is an extremely lame, thoroughly dorky song. I think this is important in summing me up. Because I also love it. It is unfettered and jubilant –I mean– in the video Jovanotti gestures at the camera like a badass (in his defense, namechecking Siddhartha and referencing Dante), backed up by a bunch of Italians happily frolicking like they’re in a Mentos commercial, demonstrating the rule that all Italians know at least three Jovanotti songs by heart.

D’aww – but the wide-open chorus: I am a lucky guy (ragazzo fortunato) because I’ve been gifted a dream / lucky because there’s nothing that I need / and when the evening comes, and I return home to you / and no matter what happens, I’m fortunate to meet you again.” It’s a simple happiness splashed all through this song, and I ain’t too good for that. I truthfully sing this song in my head all the time, like a constant mantra. Sono ragazzo fortunato. I am. And I have everything I need.

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July 15, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #31: PHOX


In a recent segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, PHOX frontwoman Monica Martin confided to Melissa Block a similar thing to what she told me last year — that she has somehow, unbelievably, been a timid singer for years. To watch the glory that slowly unfolds now out of her tight green bud of self into this dazzling swirl of confetti is truly jaw-dropping.

Monica’s voice could easily rank up there with the greats, the distinctive women who command a room, who make your heart twinge and ache, who spin out old memories like cotton candy with the ease of her fingertips. This gal used to sing behind a megaphone, afraid to look at the audience?

PHOX is a band of friends, above all, who have grown up all wound together in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I am sure that familial connection helps instill some measure of safety around a hesitant singer on stages across the country and the world. The genuine affinity between them all was obvious when we met. Their songs have captivated me from the first time I listened, all multi-instrumental experimentation and a hazy sort of deepening joy — with melodies that absolutely stick in your head for days without leaving. Their full-length record just came out a couple of weeks ago and people are (rightfully) losing their shit over it. You should go get it right away – definitely a top album of the year so far.

Here’s what they sounded like almost exactly a year ago on (I believe) their first tour ever. It was a short, sweet, stunning set that afternoon that left us all shimmering – tremendous then, and tremendous now.


Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
July 17, 2013

Slow Motion
This is one of the most winsomely charming songs that I’ve heard in the last few years, and I have listened to it (and watched THE VIDEO) dozens of times. There is a playful, glorious thread running through this song that feels like it unfolds in a number of scenes or movements. As a fan of creative percussion, I superlike watching how they construct and layer the handclaps here also:

This song sounds to me like a springtime morning waking up. It could be a forest or a meadow, or it could be a city where the shopkeepers roll up the metal grates and sweep the sidewalk that passes in front. To me it sounds like a song about a smile that you can’t shake.

Side note: I googled what an Espeon was, and it turns out it is a Pokemon — and as the mother of a ten year old boy, I really should have known that you guys. And then I also remembered that when Phox stayed at my house they specifically commented in praise of Samuel’s Pokemon dragon toy-thing that says “TYBLOSION” or something when you touch its stomach. Now THERE’S A LEITMOTIF YOU DIDN’T SEE COMING.

No Lion (Boom Forest cover)

From the first lyrics sung alone out into the room: “These days …these days are hard…” — I was frozen in place in that church, listening to four of the members of PHOX craft this with just their voices the whole way through. And then it builds and just gets stronger as it gathers steam; it is stunning, and it gave me full-body chills anew when I listened to the finished recordings. Boom Forest (John Paul Roney) is also from Baraboo, Wisconsin, and you can hear his fervent stuff (including this song) here — I like it a lot. PHOX sings on this song on his record as well.

I keep putting this song on repeat. Wow.




All pictures from that afternoon are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook Page, if you wanna see more from that day.

This is our second session we’ve posted that was recorded using the fabulous Blue Microphones. I ain’t mic-smart, but I can tell a significant wow factor in the sound that has been attained through their support of these sessions. Thanks guys.


[Audio wizardry, recording, and mixing time donated by the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records, as always, and video and photography from the supreme Kevin Ihle. Thanks for being part of creating these special sessions.]

July 6, 2014

what’s beautiful is broken

This Wednesday night, we’ve booked Jeffrey Foucault at the Ivywild School in Colorado Springs (with Patrick Dethlefs opening). I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that this song below is one of my favorites of the last good number of years. Please join us.

“Jeffrey Foucault, sings stark, literate songs that are as wide open as the landscape of his native Midwest.” — The New Yorker

If you’re not in Colorado, just listen and love:

Northbound 35 – Jeffrey Foucault

Northbound 35
through the iron hills
under infidel skies
It’s two hundred miles to drive won’t be home

I saw an elsebound train
on the overpass
in the driving rain
Every ticket costs the same
for where you can’t go

Mustang horses, champagne glasses
anything frail – anything wild
It’s the price of living motion
what’s beautiful is broken
and grace is just the measure of a fall

So I rolled into your town
past the smokestacks
and the ore docks down
off of Main the sky spun around
with her diamonds on fire

And we fought all night and we danced
in your kitchen
you were as much in my hands
as water or darkness or nothing
could ever be held

Mustang horses, champagne glasses
anything frail – anything wild
It’s the price of living motion
what’s beautiful is broken
and grace is just the measure of a fall

It’s just flashes that we own
little snapshots
made of breath and of bone
and out on the darkling plain alone
they light up the sky

And it’s 51 and driving south
ain’t it funny
how things’ll turn out
I never even kissed you on the mouth
When we said goodbye

Mustang horses, champagne glasses
anything frail – anything wild
It’s the price of living motion
what’s beautiful is broken

and grace is just the measure of a fall

BONUS: Man alive do I love this R.E.M. cover he did with his former band Redbird.

You Are The Everything (R.E.M.) – Redbird

Also, I posted a songwriter session back in 2008 that Jeffrey Foucault did with Peter Mulvey and Chris Smither – that’s still uploaded here if you want to take a listen (wonderful cover of Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” to boot).

Foucault / Mulvey / Smither Songwriter Session

Tickets for Wednesday’s show are $10, available here.

June 17, 2014

Do the right thing: We Are The World, Portland 2014 edition

Agesandages live

This is the best thing I’ve seen all month: I’ve been meaning to write about how explosively terrific and joyful the new Agesandages album is (out now on Partisan Records), but this new video does it all for me with zero editorial needed.

Divisionary (live choral version) – Agesandages

You can listen to the entire record here.

AND: it’s extra fantastic because watching the room and the happy singing, I noticed members of Typhoon, Y La Bamba, Modern Kin / Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives, and Blitzen Trapper.

I want this video to adopt me and be my forever family.

June 25 Vancouver BC / Rickshaw Theatre
June 26 Seattle, WA / The Tractor Tavern
July 25-27 Newport, RI / Newport Folk Festival
August 1-3 Happy Valley, OR / Pickathon

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June 7, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #30: David Wax Museum


Whoa. So this is the first chapel session we recorded using the new Blue Mics that were donated to the cause by a wonderful reader named Tyler Barth in California, just simply because he is a fan of what we are doing here. I’m no sonic whiz (for example, I’ll happily listen to crappy-quality songs ripped off YouTube) — but I can flat-out say that this is the best sounding chapel session we’ve ever done, and we’ve done some pretty damn terrific sounding ones before this. So thank you, Tyler. We’ve got a handful more sessions already in the can with these mics, and now I’m quadruply-thrilled to hear what’s next.

David Wax Museum is a tremendously talented band, and I’ve been a fan for years. Their voices ring true and urgent and clear together, and they’re a joy to watch because they take so much delight in what they’re doing. Then again, I’d take great joy in my work if I got to use an accordion, a cajon, shell anklet percussion, a donkey jawbone, a fiddle, and basically every other instrument that nine-year-old you would want to get your hands on and run around the backyard playing.

There’s always been a trademark español undercurrent to much of their music, fostered by David’s fellowship in Mexico after he graduated from Harvard. He spent a year studying Mexican son music, first forming a Mexican roots band before the David Wax Museum came into being.

On this session they were augmented by sometime-band-member and full-time-David’s-cousin Jordan Wax on the accordion, and I could see the specialness of their music created together. Also, this is the first chapel session I’ve hosted with a glowingly pregnant woman performing, and I think we can all agree that that little kiddo (she’s born now, and on tour with the band) must have had one of the *most joyful* in utero experiences of any baby in 2013.

It was happy to watch, imagining backflips.


July 7, 2013 – Shove Chapel
Colorado Springs, CO

Big Heart of Yours

This is such a wonderful, specific love song, and it expands like a kaleidoscope with each verse and voice and instrument added. Love songs should be specific. This one paints a distinct picture of a lover with a big heart, low voice, trembling lips, and dark eyes. I like how he invites her in this song to “break me” and also “seep into me.” Sometimes we need both, don’t we?

Let Me Rest

This traditional-sounding song is laden with a community weight of a gospel singalong, and I had to look up it up to see if it was their original creation, or a hundred-year old hymn. Suz’s clear voice rings out to lead — and if we’re talking about the gospel, she is like a minister here, leading the other four dudes in the band with her violin and her voice. This song is about resting with things that we don’t understand, best I can tell, and it’s nice to have the community voices behind us, anchoring that sometimes-challenging sentiment.

Born With A Broken Heart

This is still one of my favorite David Wax Museum songs (I named that Spring 2011 mix for a lyric from this song), and this was a request I made that afternoon. They jumped into it wholeheartedly, as you can hear, and this chapel rendition is even more mellifluously cacophonous than the album version. I adore it. You can hear the hands hitting the cajon, you can hear the clackety shells ’round ankles, you can watch the joy in the dueling accordions. “Some of us come with new hearts, most of us come with used hearts / baby, why do you look so sad?”

La Guacamaya

This is their cover song, a traditional Mexican folk song from Veracruz. I was pretty proud of my high school Spanish that allowed me to glean, without googling, this this was a song about some sort of poor little bird (spoiler: IT’S A PARROT) being urged to fly away. There’s some residual high school extra credit waiting to be earned from Sra. Navarro for that one, I think.

There was so much joy on their faces and effervescent laughter in the church when they performed this, the yelling call-and-response. Also, the cajon is hands down my favorite thing about this entire session – the way Philip Mayer drums it for all he’s got. Later that night at my house show, I think this is the song that David stood outside for, and yelled his lines from beyond the windows in the darkness. It was tremendous.







[as usual, thank you to the wonderful sound production from my Blank Tape Records homies, and Kevin Ihle who took all the marvelous video and still photography]

May 20, 2014

Fuel/Friends House Concert: Paleo, w/ Tyler Lee Holter (June 1)

Paleo star glasses

Before there was a diet that that one dude from Crossfit that you dated for a little while a couple of summers ago was following and kept trying to get you to do too, Portland musician David Strackany began playing music under the name Paleo. It ties in with the things that are primal and old, and it’s a fitting name for these quirky, rustic songs with teeth, sung boldly.

We are very lucky to be welcoming Paleo for a special Sunday night house concert on June 1. His music is out on the excellent Partisan Records (home of other house show alums and friends like Field Report, PHOX, Dolorean, and Deer Tick). His latest album is called Fruit of the Spirit: recorded in Davenport, Iowa, it features a collaborative effort of friends and artists from across the Midwest landscape of Chicago, Minneapolis, Iowa City and more. Recorded with the analogue aesthetic and equipment with Daytrotter sound engineer Patrick Stolley, Fruit of the Spirit represents a modern day DYI symphony with David Strackany as the conductor and songwriter.

Over The Hill And Back Again – Paleo

46_Dick_Cheney_3x4Prior to creating Fruit of the Spirit, Paleo spent a year writing a song a day for his ‘Song Diary’ project. VP Dick Cheney even congratulated him on his massive accomplishment in a personal letter stating, “writing 365 songs in 365 days is a feat that took determination and dedication. Completing this project must bring you great satisfaction.” I bet it did.

I am also thrilled that Tyler Lee Holter (from Denver) will be opening the night. Tyler makes gorgeous modern day cowboy music, and I mean that as the highest compliment. He will make you want to hop a train or ride off on his horse with him, that is a promise.

Plus One – Tyler Lee Holter
(another name-your-price song from Tyler is here)

tyler lee holter

See y’all Sunday, June 1 at 7pm. Generous donations for the musicians are highly encouraged, because you are a person who supports live music and the continued growth of art that means something. YES. Do 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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