January 1, 2014

Fuel/Friends Favorites of 2013


Oh, what a year this was. 2013 was a year when I tried to slow down some (or, more truthfully, grad school & work & adult responsibilities often conspired to force me to slow down, in a very non-rock-n-roll but nevertheless badass way). In some of that stillness, though, was a gratitude — as I look back on 2013, I think I did a better job of enjoying things more deeply and with a greater attention of the heart and soul. This extended not only to people in my life, but to experiences, and also to music. Each of the eight years I’ve been writing this blog has clocked in a bit richer, more settled, probably older and wiser and less frenetic.

These are my ten favorite records of the year by a long shot, and this list is not surprising to anyone who has been following me and my passions this year. These are the easy clear winners that I spent a whole hell of a lot of time listening to, seeing the musicians perform the songs live, hosting some of these folks in my home and sitting up singing with them into the night. These records have nourished my year.

I recommend that you obtain them and let them do the same for you, if any of these flew under your radar. These are not ranked in order of love, they are ranked in order of alphabet, to be clear. Here they are, my favorite records of the last twelve months.


photo (1)
(independently released)

This is just a little wisp of two-song vinyl single, but it represents the only recorded output this year that Denver’s favorite son Nathaniel Rateliff released with his burning-soul outfit, The Night Sweats. Back in April, I called them “the best band in Denver,” and it’s not hard to see why. Even watching that video now gives me chills. This is on the list because these two songs are so damn good, better than some full albums in 2013. I listened to them about a bajillion times and hope Nathaniel releases a full-length with the Night Sweats in 2014.

(Nathaniel also released a wonderful record in his folk singer persona in 2013 that is worth many listens, FYI: Falling Faster Than You Can Run)

Trying So Hard Not To Know – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

BONUS: Son Of A Bitch (live in Denver) – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats


I am thoroughly taken by this narcotic, melodic speedball of record, all dark hues and complicated beauty. The National is one of my favorite bands, and I’ve waited three years for this. From the understated opening notes and breakingly delicate vocals, this record is magnificence that was absolutely worth the wait. (from the original review, here: God loves everybody, don’t remind me)

The songs here, like all of what I love most about The National, are tangled and conflicted and in that honestly there is beauty, for me. Seeing them live at Red Rocks in September was one of my favorite musical experiences all year — these songs grow and take on a whole new, even richer life with the visuals and lights they are traveling with. The National wedged their way even more firmly into the sharp and soft parts of my soul this year.

Pink Rabbits – The National

Dead Oceans

From the opening a capella track that is just bleeding and raw with vulnerability (“I know you get lost sometimes, man, I know you get lost…”), it is clear that this is a special and rare record. Winston has an otherworldy quality to both his voice and his person. This record rambles and pours out with little concern for anyone other than exorcising the demons of one Winston Yellen, the man behind Night Beds. Stylistically you can hear his love of old female jazz vocalists (and the way his voice uncannily resembles one — well, that or a spectre), as well as hues infused by the country cabin setting where it was recorded, with broad strokes of sparkly redolence throughout.

This is a damn fine record for such a young kid. It’s just flat out gorgeous, and honest, and brave. I remember from the interview I did with Winston almost a year ago exactly, how struck I was when he said how sometimes in the studio everyone would be crying at the end of a take. I’m so over posturing. That kind of honesty in art takes bravery, and strength.

22 – Night Beds

Dead Oceans

I’ve struggled with writing this part of the post, and am still struggling. This record has blown me to bits moreso than any record I can remember in a very, very long time. There is something riveting and unsettling and deeply satisfying in the way that Matthew Houck writes songs. It is a very specific, self-effacing, hopeful, visceral-and-eviscerating language that I exactly understand. In addition to what I wrote about The National this year, this piece I wrestled out about the new Phosphorescent record (and it was a bloody battle) is one of my other favorite things I wrote in 2013:

This record wrestles with divergent, simultaneous truths about the brokenness and the bruises. “I am not some broken thing,” Houck howls pointedly in the second track, the stunning “Song For Zula” (which is hands down my song of the year), but two short songs later he is singing this simple line, that absolutely breaks my heart every time he says it: “And now you’re telling me my heart’s sick / …And I’m telling you I know.” It’s exactly that messiness (and the direct engagement with it) that spills out of this record to draw me in, underneath the timeless country veneer, under the old-time two-stepping and the lonely desert songs. Everything is tangled; everything is fucked up and bleeding, aching and glowing in the summer.

Man. And if the record itself weren’t enough, towards the end of this year a deluxe version of Muchacho was released, with a companion disc called Muchacho de Lujo. The bonus disc is a collection of songs from Muchacho and a few from previous albums, and it is just Matthew Houck and his partner Jo on piano, in the cavernous and gorgeous St. Pancras Church in London before an audience of 150 people. It is completely breathtaking — as in some moments of the recording are hard to breathe while listening to. The first time I heard the recording of “Wolves” on this bonus disc, I had to pull my car over, as he loops his voice to become a ravenous cacophony of surrender to animalism: “They tumble and fight / and they’re beautiful.” Usually a deluxe edition seems wasteful to me, but this is a rare exception where the bonus disc is every bit as valuable to me as the original album it accompanies. If you buy ONE album from this list, I would recommend this one. It’s one I will listen to for my next few decades.

Song For Zula – Phosphorescent

BONUS: Wolves (live in St Pancras Church) – Phosphorescent


This entry on the list bucks convention since the Confetti EP was a physical disc available at shows this year (in a neat little handmade envelope with a wax seal), but it is also a video EP online. If you didn’t catch them live this year, I am not sure if you can get this record, but you can enjoy the video (I recommend over and over), and some of the songs from it are heading towards their new album in 2014. “Barside” was on my Autumn Mix you can still download, too.

Phox creates malleable music: effervescent and smoky at the same time, with shimmery layers of creative instrumentation anchored by the stunning voice of Monica Martin. Listening to her voice radiantly inhabit and effortlessly anchor each song, it is hard to believe that she is a young woman just discovering very recently that she could sing. The percussion is playful and fascinating, with constantly changing time signatures and handclaps and shuffles. I love this record, every moment on it – so fresh and surprising.

We have a chapel session with PHOX coming out soon, recorded this fall when they were in town to play at the new Ivywild School I am booking live music at, and I cannot wait to share that with you. That mellifluous, honeyed voice in that cathedral was something else.

Slow Motion – PHOX

YerBird Records

This feels like a very old record to me. Or, maybe, more timeless than old — the sepia-stained hue that our favorite memories take on as we play them over and over in slow motion. It could be the way he smiled at you this morning on the couch over coffee, but the reels clack slowly as if the memory was already somehow a hundred years ago. Jeremy Quentin (Small Houses) sings about Sarah and Karen as if we know them, as if we can see them look up from their work on the porch, as if we can hear the screen door clattering and our homes and photographs come back to life.

He also has a forthcoming chapel session recording that we did this year, so be excited to hear that – him on the big grand piano with the afternoon sun streaming in the stained glass windows. It’s where this record and these songs sounded even more perfect. His piercing, simple sweetness totally disarmed me.

I Saw Santa Fe – Small Houses

Roll Call Records

One year ago in a living room in Portland, I sat down with some of the folks in Typhoon to listen to rough mixes of the songs on White Lighter. Even in their unfinished state, my reaction was immediate, and physical. I remember distinctly how my brain lit up and struggled in the best way possible, from the get go, with the dissonant fighting combination of sounds. I sat there shaking my head sharply to the side the way one does when you’re trying to clear out a dizziness. The sonic palette on this album is incredible; there are so many things happening, and it is never chaotic – it’s like this enormous organism with tentacles and razor spikes and glistening softness that is somehow all part of the same beautiful creature.

I have wanted to write about this album so many times this year, and I never have been able to. It’s so big. It’s a Sisyphean epic odyssey of an album. It’s a seamless journey and a massive battle, all the way through, the arc of a story of Kyle Morton’s life as he struggled with chronic illness. I am listening to this vinyl on my new turntable as I write this, and that is how this record is meant to be heard — all the songs bleed into one another. Themes repeat, as do codas and lyrics. The closing dual violins move me to tears in their purity, and in their wordless assertion of a sort of calm peace and beauty as we move into the next chapter. They are elegiac.

Kyle wrote, “The record is a collection of seminal life moments, in more or less chronological order, glimpsed backwards in the pale light of certain death, brought to life by a remarkable group of people who hold as I do that the work is somehow important. When we started working on White Lighter, I had reason to believe that it would be the last thing I ever did. It is now six months since we finished. I’m still here and there’s still work to be done.”

Young Fathers – Typhoon

REPAVEVolcano Choir

All through the autumn, as nature dried and fell, this compelling and unexpected record was my soundtrack. Justin Vernon blends the stark folk hymns of his first album as Bon Iver with explosive shiny metallic synths and even a potent Bukowski poetry sample. Along with a handful of his musician friends from Wisconsin, these anthems are crafted to somehow juxtapose vocoders with intricate acoustic guitarwork, needling blips with resonant piano, all punctuated by shouted choruses and singalong connections of human voices — in one of my most surprising loves this year.

Paste Magazine described it so well when they wrote, “It’s a musical and lyrical masterwork that builds and blooms in all the right places—and in places you’d never expect.” I saw Volcano Choir perform these songs live at First Ave in Minneapolis in October, and that building and blooming happened over and over in dazzling color (side note: the same folks doing the visuals behind The National on this tour did the Volcano Choir show lights as well). You have to watch this explosive, redemptive moment, one of my favorite live concert moments of 2013. The way that video looks is how this whole album feels to me.

Byegone – Volcano Choir

ALL OF IT WAS MINEThe Weather Station
You’ve Changed Records

This record is a finely-crafted, understated gem that I’ve been listening to constantly for these last few months, and yep: I just realized that it came out in 2011 and I don’t even care -damn everything. I am including it on this list anyways because this is a 2013 discovery for me, and it should be on your radar. That I am two years late is immaterial. Also, this is a blog so I can do what I want.

Tamara Lindeman is a Toronto musician, and kismet brought her into my orbit in November at the Denver Music Summit to see a late-night art gallery performance of her songs, under the band name The Weather Station. She sat in the center of a circle of white lights in front of the photographs hanging on the walls, and I was transfixed by her restrained, wonderfully droll delivery of these finely-wrought folk songs. She reminded me strongly of another Canadian, Joni Mitchell, or perhaps Laura Marling. I have been listening to this record on repeat, and it keeps yielding up new quiet layers. Get this album; better late than never.

Traveller – The Weather Station

Mama Bird Recording Company

I first listened to this record from Kevin Large (Widower) in Portland in January on cross-town bus rides for school, watching the grey buildings and pastel clapboard houses flick past on wet streets. It was love at first listen. Maybe it is because of the setting where I first heard it, but to me, Fool Moon is a loamy record that feels like a waterlogged seaside town smelling of salt and rust — like forgetting. Or being forgotten. This is a melancholy collection of songs that wrestles to balance beginning-again with battlescars, while being punched clean through with regrets. The night I first heard it, I listened to it once, and then three times more in quick and complete succession; it felt like an oil lamp smoldering the banish some of the damp greyness around me.

Despite some wide open big-sky moments on the album, like on the opening song “Jumper Cables” (on my Spring mix here), or the sweetly wheeling “Oh Catherine, My Catherine,” there’s this gorgeous hesitancy woven through this record on most of the songs. This year, even now, that is perfect for me and what I need.

Oh Catherine, My Catherine – Widower

So, that’s the ten.

I also wanted to end this post with my song to welcome in 2014. Curt Krause (frontman of the band Edmund Wayne) was one of the wonderful soul-connections I made this year through music when he came to my house recently to play a house concert. This new song, “1616,” briefly appeared online two weeks ago, and I recognized it as one that blindsided me in the best way at the house concert.

It’s a real nice way to welcome in this new year. Here’s to 2014.

1616 – Edmund Wayne

Give me a good day
one without the heaviest load
and pockets of something
doesn’t have to be money or fame, all wrapped in cellophane
a heart, or two hearts on a boat
sounds like a good day…
a good day

(Pikes Peak today)

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December 28, 2013

Do you have your tickets yet for New Year’s Eve?


Here is what I am putting together for you. Get your tickets here:

Howling brass-band chapel session alums Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds are going to soundtrack our final hours of 2013 in the gym of Colorado Springs’ freshly restored Ivywild School, along with the explosive melodic Ark Life, who just wowed Denver in their two nights opening for the sold-out Head & The Heart shows.

Conor Bourgal from The Changing Colors is also gonna start us out with a retro-soul dance party DJ set from 8pm doors until 9pm showtime, and The Principal’s Office bar is mixing up some special fancy cocktails across the hall. My school was never like this.

See you there. I’ve got my dancing shoes all picked out.

December 21, 2013

Hang A String Of Lights: The Fuel/Friends 2013 Christmas Mix


Coming in juuust under the wire with mere days left to go before Christmas (hey, I haven’t done any shopping yet either!), the holiday spirit finally bit me the other night in earnest, sitting by the tree with eggnog and delving through the songs I was considering assembling into this year’s mix. I wasn’t sure I would get a mix done this year, but I started marveling over the really solid crop of songs to choose from this year and it quickly became a no-brainer of wonderfulness.

I’m so thankful for so many things this year, including all of you, and I love being part of your holiday celebrations. Here’s to all the non-annoying seasonal tunes out there — the ones that light up the darkness on this, the longest night of the year. Hang a string of lights, strike a candle, and let’s banish some of this darkness together. Merry Christmas.


(download the whole thing as a zip)

It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop (choir version) – Frightened Rabbit
The original version of this song appeared on my Christmas mix in 2008, when I was listening to a lot of Frightened Rabbit and being very sad about things. I’m just hearing this celestial b-side rendition, and is almost 100% just simple choral magnificence. Wayy better psychological ramifications.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – Sleeping At Last
Ryan O’Neal puts out an entire Christmas song collection every year (“Snow” was last year’s terrific contribution to this mix), and his Lennon cover is a standout of 2013′s. With every passing year, I am more strongly drawn to the simplicity in this song, especially the way Ryan sings it. Two songs into the mix and I already have something in my eye.

Mvmt IV, Every Bell On Earth Will Ring – The Oh Hellos
Stop reading this right now and go download the new Oh Hellos Family Christmas EP right now. It is the best thing out there this season, free or otherwise. They’re playing a few Colorado shows around the holidays, guys. I want them to come to my house because — listen to this.

I Believe In Santa Claus – Dr Dog
From their marvelous little new EP of original Christmas songs that you must get right away. Quirky, melodic goodness, as one would expect from these gents.

Hang A String Of Lights – Great Lake Swimmers
This is kind of what Christmas in California used to sound like. From Nettwerk’s Christmas 2012 collection.

Angels We Have Heard On High – Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan is the reigning king of all Christmas songs now and forevermore (but hey, I can’t put “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever” on every year’s mix, so I am branching out). This is from his Silver & Gold EPs, a sampling of which is now free over on Noisetrade.

Tennessee Christmas – Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives
Dude, Drew — circa 1983 Amy Grant covers? Bold. Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives are now reincarnated as Modern Kin (with an excellent album this year), but this is an old recording from a few years ago. When Drew sings those lyrics about Colo-raaaa-do and our deep snows, I have to swoon.

O Little Town Of Bethlehem – Folk Angel
This Dallas band offers up their stomping take on this traditional carol, from a free sampler on Noisetrade. Noisetrade is killin’ it this Christmas.

Silver Bells – Edmund Wayne
Curt (frontman of Edmund Wayne) is one of my favorite souls I’ve hosted for a house show – a pure and piercing presence, with gorgeously-crafted songs. This quiet lo-fi Christmas EP fell in my lap yesterday, and not only includes this song, but you must must must check out “1616” (it made me cry at my house show last weekend / a perfect song).

Maybe This Christmas (Ron Sexsmith) – Paul Jacobsen & The Madison Arm
I feel lucky to have a wonderful community of folk musician friends in Salt Lake City (backstory/mix), and some of them got together to do up a richly sweet cover of Ron Sexsmith. Sarah Sample also joins in here on vocals – she’s got a lullaby album in the making, too.

You Never Come Home For Christmas – Caitlin Rose & Keegan DeWitt
Caitlin’s not yet a friend, but we have a lot of folks in common, so I took a special listen to her playful duet here with her neighbor Keegan, which delivers a zing of a lyrical punch: “You never come home for Christmas — and maybe it’s better that way.”

In The Bleak Midwinter – Andrew Greer
The thoughtful and wonderful Cover Lay Down blog described Andrew Greer as “heavenly folk tenor reminiscent of an early Paul Simon,” and so yep, I’m on board.

Are You Coming Over for Christmas? – Belle & Sebastian
The feyest of all fey Christmas songs, in such an endearing way. Yes Stuart, I am coming over. Keep the fire in the kitchen going.

O Holy Night – Kalai
I have listened a hundred times or more to the only other Kalai song I have, a James-Taylor doppelganger ballad that exudes a simple grace. So I was excited to see him on the free MetCom Studios Eggnog Sampler this year with a cover of my favorite Christmas carol.

Still, Still, Still – The Lower Lights
The Lower Lights are a folk collective of those aforementioned good folks in Salt Lake City, and this year again they got roughly 463 musicians together and just released their second Christmas album, with marvelous album art from Hatch Show Print. The ladies of The Souvenirs sing here.

Merry Christmas, I’m Yours – Prairie Empire
This time last year Brittain Ashford of Prairie Empire came through Denver and treated a small lucky group to a special subterranean show that I remember well. This breathy song is from last year’s free Auld Lang Syne EP.

Blue Christmas – Vandaveer
This year I got to welcome Rose & Mark into my home for a concert and into the chapel to record their (almost-next-up) chapel session, and it was a thorough joy. I love how Mark’s voice here sounds like a sultry jazz lady. From 2010′s free 3-song Christmas EP.

Christmas Must Be Tonight – The Band
There are a lot of covers of this song floating around out there, but somehow I’ve never posted the original and it is still my favorite.

Xmas Eve – The Damnwells
I used this song on my mix way back in 2007, but I have been revisiting it on the regular in the last few weeks, since Alex Dezen of The Damnwells graced us with a tremendous house show. This is just a really good song, Christmastime or no, and I always appreciate those contributions to this mix. I am glad the original lineup is making a new album.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Elvis Presley
You can’t not feel a pang in your chest when you hear this one, especially the way Elvis croons it.

Carol of the Banjos – Beta Radio
From their free Christmas EP this year; 2011′s “The Song The Season Brings” still sounds so very good too.

Our World (Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas) – Kyle Zantos & Bryan John Appleby
Several of my favorite Seattle musicians take on this song from the 1977 Jim Henson classic, and it is so humble and just perfect. From the new, free Santa’s Slay EP.


[the mix cover art, as usual, by the wonderful and generous Ryan Hollingsworth, from a photo I took last Christmas under lights at the Broadmoor Hotel with Megan from the Music vs Misery blog, Winston from Night Beds, Adam from Songsfortheday, and my good friend Andrew. Here’s to warm twinkly nights and another beauty-filled year.]

November 20, 2013

house shows & music summits in Colorado this weekend!


This weekend is a terrific one in Colorado music.

First up, on Friday night I am hosting a Fuel/Friends House Concert & Dinner with Alex Dezen of The Damnwells! The Damnwells are a band that I listen to a lot, over the last eight years or so, and I never get tired of them. I may not talk about them as often as they merit but every damn time I put their albums on, I marvel at the rich romanticism and melodic power in Alex Dezen’s voice and songs. “Forgive me baby, I’m so full of hearts / swelled up with sadness and broken in parts.”

Kung Fu Grip Kiss – The Damnwells

Originally the band was from Brooklyn and released my favorite album of theirs, Air Stereo, on Rounder/Epic Records in 2006, and many other tremendous songs that I have followed closely over the last decade – oh, and that great documentary about them that sprinted across the indie film circuit a few years back.

I’m thrilled that Alex is heading across country and stopping to do a special, intimate house show for Fuel/Friends readers on Friday night! For the house address and all the good details, check the FB invite, and I hope to see you there. The dinner part is full, but there is still room for folks at the show.


Then on Saturday & Sunday, you’ll find me at the Denver Music Summit again! This type of community-oriented musician education and creative vitality-infusion is one of the best things that our city has done in various iterations over the years, and I am happy to be a part of it once again.

I will be speaking on a panel for musicians Saturday morning with the luminous Storm “Hey Now” Gloor, professor of Arts & Media at University of Colorado Denver (and keeper of some of the best/nerdiest spreadsheets about music that you will ever see). We will be talking about branding yourself as an artist (AT TEN AM SORRY) and tips for reaching out to music blogs. You should preregister for the Saturday & Sunday workshops – it’s only ten bucks for all the sessions.

Saturday night I was thinking of telling a story again with The Narrators and friends like Will Johnson and Dave Bazan, but buckled because my brain is too addled lately. I do believe in the power of public storytelling (especially around music themes!), and there are some wonderful storytellers involved, so come on out for that!

The whole weekend of musical guests for the Denver Music Summit reads like a Fuel/Friends House Concerts hall of fame. If you’re reading this post, you’ll like it.

Some of the friends in town / playing the Summit include PHOX, The Changing Colors, Ark Life (the new endeavor of Jesse from These United States), Josiah Johnson of The Head and The Heart, Chimney Choir, Yonnas Abraham of Pirate Signal, Dave Bazan, Will Johnson (Centro-matic), Joe Pug, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Esme Patterson (Paper Bird) – and many more. Whew.

shows_ive_seenGIVEAWAY: I have two full all-access passes to give away for the Denver Music Summit weekend! Please email me with “Denver Music Summit” in the subject line and some good reasons about why you deserve it & how you’ll use it, and I will judiciously find good homes for them.

Full schedule details for the Summit here. See you all out there this weekend!

November 12, 2013

it’s the simplest of love songs / but it’s all our hearts can take

2013.07.27: Noah Gundersen @ Timber! Outdoor Music Festival - Ca

I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism. I’ve been asking other writer-friends to define the word for me, so I can add to my functional understanding of its complexities and what different people perceive it to mean. I’ve asked friends earnestly if, really, shouldn’t I should try to develop some cynicism, a shell, a coating, a veneer? I’ve thought about the difference between a familiarity with the nastiness of life, a healthy respect for the damage-possibilities, and the choices we have within that maelstrom to live strong and brave and beautiful anyways.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism in music. You don’t have to have been a reader long to know that my heart tends to bleed everywhere. I love those shiny songs and mindless songs and fractured songs, but the ones that seem to stick with me the longest are the ones that are the most bald-faced in their lack of cynicism, in the way they take advantage of the unique medium of music to assert …some sort of hope, some wrestling with life, some refusal to lay back in the muck and let it swallow us. It’s the reason that I picked this quote from Nick Hornby’s Songbook to be on the top of this blog since the beginning:

“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…”

I’ve been trying to write this post since July, when I went to the Timber! Outdoor Music Festival. For the second summer festival in a row, the set from Noah Gundersen was the one that made me sit in a stunned silence on the dirty ground. Noah and his siblings and his band amaze me in everything they do. There is something foolishly generous and wholly beautiful in all of his music, and in their performance of it.

That Saturday night in July, for the final set as the ground vibrated and the sweat of the day dried, the show suddenly stumbled into a clearing of something magnificent and unvarnished. It was something so pure and strong that it almost doesn’t make sense when I try to explain it to someone else, but that dissolved me so that when it was over I couldn’t speak to anyone at all, and all I could do was head directly to my top bunk in the yurt and cinch myself all the way tight into my sleeping bag. I needed a cocoon around me, warmth to stop the shivers, like my skin had been peeled off.

It happened when they launched in to this song, and specifically around 1:09.

Garden – Noah Gundersen

I have read that you have to be careful after rescuing a starving person not to give them too much rich food too fast because it will overwhelm their systems. I thought of that when everything cut out during that set under the pines, as Noah and Abby together sang: “…but wait. Wait. See how the morning breaks; it’s the simplest of love songs ….but it’s all our hearts can take.” There was so much generosity there.

In that moment, in unintentional defiance of cynicism, I was obliterated.

Noah’s live performances always feel like the summation of things I forgot. As they sang this song, I sat there and I thought something blazingly bright and clear and frustratingly ambiguous. I found myself thinking, “Because this moment in this song exists: …________.” For four months I haven’t been able to finish articulating the second half of that equation.

Last night in Boulder I slogged it out with Noah over some whiskeys and I tried to finish wrestling out the rest of what is true in the unfinished second half of that equation, and how it has been chasing me for months. Noah smiled and he said, “but I think that’s the thing, the not filling in that second half. That ambiguity is beautiful.”

For you it might be another song, and for me it was this one, on that night, in a campground by a river in Washington State. It was the moon. It was the certainty of something ineffable, that I have not yet forgotten.

It reminds me of some of the final lines in the magnificent book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, her story of her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the southern border of Washington state, after a shit-kickingly hard period in her life. She writes at the end of her trek about sitting on a bench by the Bridge of the Gods, finally accomplished in what she set out to do in those months, despite the seeming-insurmountable difficulty. She writes about how all the blissful things yet to come in her life were unknown to her as she sat there bloodied and bruised and strong from the miles and miles she had walked. It was all unknown to her — “everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true.”

Now that’s a statement borne out of whatever the opposite of cynicism is; hard struggle and finding your way back to the person that lives under the bruise of life hovering on the surface, maybe. It resonates with me, and so does the purity in this song.

It’s the simplest of love songs, but it’s all our hearts can take.

[top image from Timber! by Jason Tang]

November 11, 2013

Typhoon recorded a song in my bathroom…

photo (2)

Last year when Typhoon was staying at my house in Colorado Springs, they taped two mics to the top of my Dyson vacuum cleaner and set up a tiny recording studio in my downstairs half-bath. I was at work but they sent me photo proof, and my humble bathroom has felt blessed by the divine ever since.

You & I can finally hear the results of that afternoon — most excellently a part of an entire album of Portland bands covering the Beach Boys’ 1967 album Smiley Smile. It also features the delicious Fuel/Friends house show alums Radiation City (who I don’t think recorded anything at my house but WHO KNOWS), as well as other Portland talents.

The whole Portland Smiles album is for sale at Tender Loving Empire, along with a beer koozie that if they send to me I promise to use in that bathroom. For them.

photo (3)

October 30, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #27: Dawes


At the Meadowgrass Music Festival in Colorado’s Black Forest in May, right before the fires ravaged the surrounding area but left the festival grounds untouched, we brought three of the members of Dawes into the small historic chapel where we recorded The Barr Brothers last year (and Desirae Garcia also this year).

There is a blissfully-simple openness to this chapel session — it’s just the three guys, one guitar, and a whole hell of a lot of unjaded harmonies in that echoey room with charming folk-art paintings on the adobe walls.

All of the Dawes songs I have been drawn to the most over the years are the ones with a vulnerable, wide-open heart on display, and harmonies to match. There is something in that sound that resonates with this (vulnerable, wide-open) heart, and today is a perfect time for me to post this. Sometimes opening yourself up to being vulnerable sucks, but Dawes makes it sound so damn alluring.

This sort of golden, expansive, late Sixties Laurel Canyon sound is how I love Dawes best, and I was thrilled to get to sit there while this happened and now to share it with you. I was interested to read of the band’s connections with both Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello on this record (?!) and the resulting songs wouldn’t sound out of place alongside either of those guys’ output.

This little session is one for the windows down in the hills.

May 25, 2013 – Meadowgrass Music Festival
La Foret Campgrounds / Taylor Memorial Adobe Chapel


Side Effects
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that you probably should not ever listen to this while sitting in your darkened living room alone with a glass of something amber. All the ghosts, all the other paths you took instead, all the aches — they will accost you. And, of course, this might be alright. But be warned that this is the best kind of sweet and plaintive and sad killer.

Someone Will
Those harmonies. I mean, COME ON.

Hey Lover (Blake Mills)
With a chorus that will stick in your head for weeks, this song also has charming lyrics like “I wanna raise with you and watch our younglings hatch / fuckin’ make the first letters of their first names match.” As our sound guy Conor told me later regarding that line: “A well placed fuckin’ is such a treat.” I agree.

Blake Mills used to be in the forerunner band to Dawes with Taylor Goldsmith (a band called Simon Dawes), so this is a charming choice of hybrid-cover.



[video and photos by Kevin Ihle, as always, and the superb audio work from the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records]

October 24, 2013

new house concert: Edmund Wayne w/ Covenhoven (Dec 15)


The first time I heard Edmund Wayne, I was driving across Central California in the summertime.

I remember it was one of those long two-lane highways where the center line flicking its yellow bursts can be mesmerizing, and the rows and symmetrical rows of crops and orchards open up off into the distance on either side of you, so far you can’t see the end of each row, and then you pass it and it’s gone.

This is similarly mesmerizing music that weaves and curls around your ears when you listen, in a very hypnotic, elastic way. Frontman Curt Krause has quite the range on him, and I can’t wait to hear him sing with that voice bouncing off my wood floors on Sunday, December 15. We’re planning ahead, but mark your calendars — the band is touring through some of these Western United States, braving the snows of December, and I look forward to giving them a warm welcome all the way from Seattle.

To The Bugs On My Ceiling (with River Giant) – Edmund Wayne
(from the Fuel/Friends Springtime mix 2013)

Denver’s much buzzed-about Covenhoven will open the show. Joel Van Horne (previously of Denver’s Carbon Choir) recorded and named this record after his family’s cabin in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. There is a kind of spare and haunting melodic power in his songs that has garnered him comparisons to Blind Pilot and Gregory Alan Isakov, not bad company to be in.

My Search Party – Covenhoven
(from the Fuel/Friends Autumn mix 2013)


The show is Sunday evening, December 15. Let’s all warm up together, there will be a fire in the fireplace, and maybe let’s have some hot toddys. I’m predicting magic.

October 13, 2013

Sunday night Counting Crows bootleg listening

setlists with Adam Duritz

In honor of a completely amazing evening that I spent yesterday with Adam Duritz (pictured partially above, and no — I haven’t stopped smiling yet), I went back tonight and re-uploaded one of my favorite live recordings ever of Counting Crows.

In August of 1993, they played the new AAA Records & Radio Convention at Boulder’s Fox Theatre. I talked to Adam about it last night and he remembers that show fondly. You can read my story about this show and download the soundboard recording by following the link below, but know I wore this cassette tape out then, and in listening to it again tonight it still holds all that magic in it for me.

shows_ive_seenDOWNLOAD: COUNTING CROWS IN BOULDER, AUGUST 1993 (soundboard)

Oh! And if you happen to be in NYC this week for CMJ, check out Adam’s three-day, free Outlaw Roadshow, in conjunction with my friend Ryan over at Ryan’s Smashing Life blog! I would go if I could.

October 11, 2013

(amen.) – the Fuel/Friends Autumn Mix 2013


The “amen” title of this year’s seasonal autumn mix is not a reverential reference to the mix itself, but a word that rose up on its own in two different songs, unplanned as I made the playlist. In the same way that 2011′s (super sad; sorry about that, guys) mix congealed into its own theme of rivers, bones, empty beds, and gospel backing vocals, this year’s mix took on a theme of richly robust strings and the word “amen” popping up all over.

First, there is the amen at the end of Volcano Choir’s “Alaskans” — a sampling of Charles Bukowski reading his poem The Shower, and struggling over the final lines, ending with “amen.” Then a few songs later, Tyler Lyle wends his way to another kind of amen — a blessing of sorts, as he sings about youth and aging and wanting to live forever.

Of all the words I could have lifted out of a song to name this mix, that one word “amen” seems to fit the most. Fall always feels like a bit of a benediction to me; a closing thank you and fiery brilliant last gasp to what the summer was, a preparing for the thick silence and the warm wool blankets of winter.

(amen.) – The Fuel/Friends Autumn Mix 2013

While You’re Carrying The Weight – Patrick Dethlefs
Patrick is one of Colorado’s best gems, and this song is the title track off his new EP. There is a weighty, elegant compassion radiating through it, and it makes me somehow grateful – and breathless.

The Shining – Badly Drawn Boy
While the amens were accidental, when I started listening for this mix to coalesce, I wanted all of the songs with the strings, and that bluish-purple shine that could look like either gathering twilight or a healing bruise.

Alaskans – Volcano Choir
This album, all of it: flawless soundtrack of this season. I picked this track narrowly over “Byegone,” but it was suuuuper close. Ultimately it was the heartbreaking Bukowski sample that did it for me, because: CHRIST.

Amsterdam – Gregory Alan Isakov
Perhaps it is because Colorado totally wins autumn-time, what with all our yellow aspens and such, but this mix this year is especially dense with Colorado songwriters. Greg is obviously one of our finest; everything he makes, for me, is redolent of this season. From his stunning new “rambler’s folky manifesto” album, The Weatherman.

Barside – PHOX
All the time, still cannot get enough of Monica’s honeyed voice. Their chapel session is in the pipeline, and I can’t wait to have more music from them to listen to. This song feels like falling asleep sitting up.

Small Plane (NPR garden version) – Bill Callahan
There is a simple, stark straightforwardness in this song from Bill’s new album Dream River, a view of relationships with others that I find real and appealing. “I always went wrong in the same place / where the river splits towards the sea,” he confides, but then the lyrics delve into a mutual wresting of control from each other. All those different paths our lives could follow; “I really am a lucky man.”

My Search Party – Covenhoven
Joel Van Horne of Colorado named his new musical project after his family cabin, Covenhoven, in rural Wyoming, and created an independent symphony of a record around the concept of that place for him. This song stopped me in everything I was doing when I first heard it. I still draw in my breath sharply and hold it for the whole first verse.

Salt Year – Chris Bathgate
I’m just choking on a salt year, when sugar’s all I’ve longed for. I should live in salt for leaving you behind. Mixed metaphors, same ideas, terrific song.

Silent Passage – Bob Carpenter
This is a song from the early Seventies that I’d never heard until recently, and I think I hear Emmylou Harris on backing vocals? Golden sun, long roads, and a restless spirit, this song.

Young Men (demo) – Tyler Lyle
For my money, this young man is writing some of the very very best songs right now: wry and clever and believing and wide open, all at once. We just want to live forever, we are sorry we will never, amen.

Come On, Illinois – Houndmouth
A calescent, fast-rising band from Kentucky that makes me want to watch Last Waltz a few more times. I saw these guys in Boulder this summer and, man, for some fresh-faced kids, they can joyfully wail with the best of ‘em.

Rules Of The Game (b-side) – Typhoon
I still want to wrestle out what the new Typhoon record means to me (hint: a lot), and how seeing them live recently was one of the most jaw-dropping shows I have seen in years. But for now — we will sit quietly and soak in the loveliness of this song which could totally be an a-side but is a b-side because Typhoon has more talent than they know what to do with. This song fits seamlessly in to White Lighter, even repeating melodies and certain turns of phrase.

The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve
This classic came on shuffle recently and those STRINGS. I have it on repeat so many days lately. I will always love the lyric, “and I hope you’re thinking of me / as you lay down on your side.” So …simple. A heartbreaker, this song.

The Orchids (Psychic TV cover) – Califone
I saw Califone the other night in a little coffee shop near the railroad tracks in Colorado Springs. I had never heard much of their music before, just knowing them by reputation mostly. I sat there with an awed half-smile on my face the whole time, hand touched to my lips, an unsettled and deeply-pleased feeling on me all at once, in the best possible way.

Mine – Spirits of the Red City
Spirits of the Red City has been haunting me pleasantly for a few months now. Originally a loose collective from Minneapolis, but now sort of related to Denver by blood (since Denver’s Collectible Records just released their new record Jula), we welcome them.

Dying Now – Noah & Abby Gundersen
One of the finest, truest duos together, this brother and sister detonate the emotional heavy artillery, but make it so smooth that you almost don’t notice until you look down and a chunk is missing.

To Place Me On A Stone – Will Johnson
Kinda in a Will Johnson phase these days, fittingly, obviously. Solo vocal evening worksong; closing hymn for the summer having its way with us.

Ghost, Again – Rayland Baxter
My friend Jon recommended I listen to this artist, and whoaa I am so glad I did. Close your eyes for this one, and just let it pierce through. “I nearly made it to the end of the road.”

3 Rounds and a Sound (iTunes session) – Blind Pilot
I recently reminded myself how this is a perfect album, and this is an exquisite version of a perfect song. “I hope we dance tonight before we get it wrong / and the seasons will change us new, but you’re the best I’ve known, and you know me.”

Can I Sleep In Your Arms Tonight (Willie Nelson) – Phosphorescent
I’ve been laced-in with fast, tight stitches in a Phosphorescent cocoon lately.
This song is on here rather than the completely, abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous version of “Wolves” from St. Pancras Church that is coming out on the bonus live disc for Muchacho (Oct 29) for two reasons. One, all of us can agree that autumn is the best time to start up that snuggly sleeping-in-someone’s-arms business, aside from the sticky summer heat. Two, I am so not able to write about Wolves right now. So many thoughts. Preorder that bonus disc and we will talk later.

In the meantime, snuggle with Matthew Houck and Willie under that quilt. It feels good.


[cover art design, as usual, by the tremendous Ryan Hollingsworth, from my picture last weekend at Mueller State Park, aspen-gazing.]

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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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