November 20, 2015

Fuel/Friends is 10 years old today (we got the means to make amends)

Ten years: On Josh Ritter, Pearl Jam, and finding my voice


Homecoming – Josh Ritter

I feel a change in the weather
I feel a change in me…

A decade ago today, I sat at my kitchen table on my pink Dell laptop in my new hometown of suburban Colorado Springs and I started writing a new blogspot called “I Am Fuel, You Are Friends,” named after a favorite Pearl Jam song. I never thought more than a handful of people would read it, but I had things I wanted to say that were withering in the silence of my kitchen.

And so I decided to write. For me, for music, for you, even though I didn’t know you yet.

Days are getting shorter
and the birds begin to leave
Even me, yes yes y’all
who has been so long alone
I’m headed home
headed home…

It’s ten years (and almost ten million pageviews?!) later, and I am so far now from where I was then. You’ve all been the best part of that long road, hands down. These last few weeks as the leaves change in Colorado, I’ve been listening to a lot of the new Josh Ritter album, Sermon On The Rocks. The parts of life that were withering ten years ago are growing in golden and full. The lyrics throughout this post are from his perfect song of homecoming, which has become my anthem in this season.

Lift the valley from the floor honey
little town into the sky
they’ll say that it’s a miracle
and you’ll know damn well they’re right…

Yesterday morning as the sun rose, I was driving along under golden branches that line my street and listening to Josh Ritter sing about his homecoming. I realized that this has been a sweet season for me of coming somewhat unexpectedly to a home within myself. I know Josh has been through similarly rough seas in the last few years, and this record is one where we both sing along to the idea of seeing land, of finding home.

I realized with a start that this is what I wished for a decade ago when I named this blog, even though I didn’t know it yet: Will myself to find a home, a home within myself; we will find a way. All of a sudden, I realized I’d found it — and I’d found it in the gratitude, in refusing to abandon wonder.

Nights are getting colder now
the air is getting crisp
I first tasted the universe on a night like this

So, I’m writing this from a different kitchen table, in a different house, and I am aware of how full it is to bursting. Full with the sound of clocks ticking from different rooms tracking the avalanche of a gift of moments. I hear the coffee pot whooshing quietly and the baseboard heaters gently clinking as they fill my house with warmth, with comfort. This morning I sat in the glowing dawn and stroked the still-soft cheek of my twelve year old son who is getting bigger every minute, I realized the overwhelming sweetness of living every moment as if it is the last time you get to do it. I wondered what the last time was that I picked him up and held him in my arms before he got too big.

I feel a change in the weather; I feel a change in me.

I also want tell you about how this has been a year of reconciliation for me, because I think it’s important to suture up hurts from old wounds and letting them heal. In March I was in Buenos Aires to visit a university program there and I found myself in the company of a wonderful human named Fede who has been reading this blog since back in 2006–almost the very beginning. He first found me through a Google search on Pearl Jam lyrics, and after almost a decade of following my meanderings from a different continent, he welcomed me to his city as more of a longtime friend than a tourist.

As we walked around that vibrant, gorgeous city of Buenos Aires that expansive Saturday, we kept talking about Pearl Jam, each knowing all the same details before the other person even finished the beginning of the sentence. We mused about specific live renditions of songs, the precise date of our first times seeing the band (11/4/95 and 10/25/2005, respectively) and what the first song they played at that show was, Ten Club Christmas singles album art, and the relative merits of their different drummers. We both remembered what Stone and Jeff were wearing in that picture Rolling Stone published during the Department of Justice hearings over Ticketmaster (pink button-down, backwards hat, dopey looks).

Drive east of Eden
’til we’d start to feel the west
we were never far from nowhere
you could see it from the edge…

Maybe it was just the liminality inherent in travel, but that was a wide-open day of different perspective for me. We sat at a cafe by the river and the conversation drifted towards the topic of anger in the world in general. “I don’t believe in anger anymore,” Fede mused in his soft voice. “I don’t know the point of it.”

I confess, you guys: I’ve been darkly angry and hurt for years about the falling out I had with Pearl Jam (or more accurately their management). It’s been years of letting a little sharp hard pebble of being wronged sit in my gut and burrow in and fester. At the time that all happened, I felt justified in my indignation because I really believed that fan enthusiasm was valuable and inherently good, and mine felt rejected — sealed with a legal cease and desist order. And that stunk. I felt small and maltreated in some other substantial areas of my life too at that point, and so the whole Pearl Jam debacle just got tangled up in the stinging sandstorm.

But I started thinking about Fede’s comments about anger as we walked, and the futility of it all, especially as we get older. As both of us ate helado and glowed to talk about the songs that we have both flowered up towards for so long, I remembered all the reasons why I loved Pearl Jam in the first place, the fervent and pure sentiments that made me want to name this blog after their song lyrics. They have played a huge role in my life, in my formation, in my musical raison d’être. And so in one very specific moment this spring, walking down a narrow Buenos Aires street, I decided to reconcile with Pearl Jam. I’ve carried that pebble of indignation around long enough, I don’t even recognize it anymore.

Fede and I made plans for me to find a copy of Cameron Crowe’s PJ20 documentary once I got back to Colorado (since I hadn’t seen it), and to watch together on FaceTime with a bottle of red wine on either end of the connection. As we watched the documentary, all my synapses blissed out. I was reminded of who I had been. I sang all the words, and remembered songs I hadn’t thought of in years. It may have been the entire bottle of Argentinian Malbec in me, but towards the end I cried.

The reconciliation, the homecoming, felt really good.

I’m winding up new posts on this blog (after we share the last couple of wonderful chapel sessions) and I don’t want to go out with jagged edges; I don’t want to go out with any part small and bitter. I’ve found more connection and open-hearted joy and insight through the process of writing this blog for the last ten years than I ever could have imagined. I found my voice here (in a million important ways), and I feel profoundly fortunate to have gotten to share music that I love with you. We’ve been illuminated together, I hope — stars against the dark of cynicism.

Fuel/Friends gave me the means, and now the amends have been made. The fiery gyre that I felt chewing up my insides a decade ago, as my big, bright thoughts about music fell silent into the abyss, has ceased– and been replaced by a flourishing community of flesh-and-blood people that I tend to talk to more with my voice these days instead of my keystrokes. I may write every now and then in the future, but I feel like the time when I needed it is more distant every day, and I’m turning inward, coming home to myself.

Would you leave me a comment if you have a story about your engagement with Fuel/Friends from these last ten years that I don’t know? Writing into the ether is liberating and lovely, and also often anonymous. Some of my most worthwhile moments of the last decade have been connecting with all the beautiful individual humans who have listened and read along all these years.

I want to say thank you for — igniting things that matter along with me, for collectively recognizing the beauty and magic in music all around us, and for being friends.

It’s OK (Dead Moon cover) – Pearl Jam
“Sing loud ’cause it’s outside / sing loud ’cause you’re still alive.”
Virginia Beach, August 3, 2000


The air is getting colder now
the nights are getting crisp

I first tasted the universe on a night like this


March 19, 2013

Josh Ritter Album Club! (group conversation and interview)


Last weekend I made up a big crockpot of stew and invited ten Fuel/Friends readers over to my house to talk about Josh Ritter‘s new album, The Beast In Its Tracks, an intensely personal record that Josh wrote in the wake of his recent divorce. The concept behind this pow-wow was that in the same way people get together to talk about books they’ve read and been affected by, it would be interesting to try extending the same concept to the music we so passionately consume.

And passionately do Josh’s fans consume his music. I got over forty entries for this album club in just a couple of days, from as far away as France and England. People wrote long, beautiful, wrenching letters to me about Josh’s music and how it had soundtracked some of their most excoriating moments and months in their lives, as well as some of the most joy-filled. Some I kept closing and returning to because they were almost too flooded for me to absorb all at once. They were some of the most visceral connections I’ve ever witnessed in the time I have been writing this blog. I felt honored.

I picked ten folks that could feasibly come to my place on a random Sunday night, and ultimately the ten of us sat huddled around my laptop after dinner while Josh skyped in to talk to us from his Brooklyn apartment, shortly before he headed out on this long tour. Of course he was joyful, and of course he was thoughtful, and gracious. Most of us piped up with a question that had been on our minds after listening to the record — and all of us enjoyed his ruminations, his literary references, and his laughter.

Pull up a chair.

March 10, 2013

Josh Ritter: Can I just say first of all, you guys, this is really awesome, I’m so honored, so honored. Thank you so much for doing this — this is incredible.

Heather: Oh man, we think it’s pretty exciting. I was thrilled to get a chance to do something where we get to actually get together in person and talk about music. We were just talking about how so many of our communities are not physical communities, so we don’t get to actually sit down and talk about things that matter to us, music-wise. We’ve all enjoyed even just already tonight having food and talking and all that. So thanks for giving us the opportunity to do that.

We’ve got a couple questions that different folks have come up with, and we thought we’d just start in, if you’re ready.

JR: Yeah, totally.

Maddy: So, Josh, with So Runs the World Away, you talked a lot about your writer’s block before that and how hard you were working to just consume music, literature, museums, get inspirations from wherever you could – feed the monster, as you said. Then with this album, it seems like you got inspiration that you didn’t want, internally, and I was wondering what you were also consuming, what you were reading, what you were listening to, while you were going through the process of writing this album.

JR: What I’ve noticed about writing records (and it’s not too much different from other things in life, I think) is that you’re so influenced by the external surroundings, but you’re most influenced by the choices you made on the last thing you did, you know? And with So Runs the World Away that was just …those were big songs. I had the compulsion to really write big songs, but also, I felt like I needed to put big things in my brain, you know? Like with songs like “Orbital” which was a song that I wrote just trying to…I just wanted to get “the big bang” into a song. I wanted to figure out the process, see if I could get it as concise as I could.

That was something that was really fun to do, but it also kind of felt frantic — like I was a stopped-up bottle and then suddenly I was free and trying to get as much written as I could at one time, really frantically. And that was without a personal external pressure. There wasn’t anything going on in my life that I knew at the time that was really pushing me in that direction. I just wanted to make something big, just because I thought it would be fun. And I felt that the album before, Historical Conquests had been kind of a scrappier thing; I wanted So Runs the World Away to have a little bit more orchestration to it, you know? So the museums, and the books I was reading at the time, that really helped me to do that.

With The Beast in its Tracks, obviously I was thinking very much about this major event in my life that was the catalyst for all this writing. You’re right, that experience really threw my influences into stark relief. The things that really mattered to me at the time, I went back to them like comfort food, you know? I went back to some of the writers that I really loved for a dose of what they had given me before….like definitely Flannery O’Connor. Or, also Fleetwood Mac — Fleetwood Mac was a big thing for me because I felt like — there’s a guy, Lindsey Buckingham. He can write a guitar line that has two notes in it, and it’s so badass. And he plays three notes and he’s gone, like that’s it. And I liked that kind of unselfish playing. I loved reading …I went back and read Deadwood, which is a book that I really loved, by Pete Dexter. I was also reading this book called The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which was so good, mostly because I was interested in just that pace of the life. That book got me interested in other things in life besides what was going on in my head. To read about somebody who was interested in everything in the world, and had some really tragic things happen to him, but he still just pointed himself forward, you know? I guess the actual experience might be a catalyst, but it doesn’t give you a new vocabulary, it just realigns the vocabulary that you already had.

Seth: So, the great folk songwriters write great stories, and it’s not usually about their own life, but they look at the world around them and they respond to it, and they tell the world’s stories. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I read in an interview where you said you haven’t in the past really liked writing autobiographically. And wondering…this album seems obviously very much an autobiographical album, and wondering what gave you the freedom to put that hat on, so to speak, or to begin writing, opening up that door to yourself as far as what poured into the songs. What was that process like, if there was a process?

JR: I have to write about stuff. For most of my life, I’d been writing about the things I thought about and the things I saw, and I pictured this album kind of like walking across the desert and everything’s going fine – and then suddenly, you come to the Grand Canyon. So you can write about anything, but then you come to the Grand Canyon, and it’s undeniable and it’s right there, and if you turn around and you don’t write about it, you’re kind of a coward. You’ve gotta do it.

This is an important experience. So many people have it, it’s not just my own experience. And I would never write about it if it was just my own experience. It’s something that lots of people go through; a broken heart is something everybody goes through, so I just wanted to write about it in the way that was most open to everybody, while still being able to make sure I could tell the things that really mattered to me. But it was definitely a decision. I thought the idea of sitting down and writing about other things was so unthinkable to me at the time. I feel like after a while, of course, the power of that sort of stuff goes out, because you can only tell so many stories about yourself; you have to tell other stuff. The last thing I want to do is really bore people with that stuff. So I feel like this is a pass. I gave myself a pass in this one regard.

Seth: George Oppen said “Like a bull in a china shop: it is striking for a while. After that, the china shop becomes a bull pen, and the bull is an ordinary bull.”

JR: (laughs) That’s great!

Jon Jon: I have one that kind of follows up on that. Since this album is more autobiographical, and since you’ve only been singing these songs more recently, how has it affected your shows? Because now you’re coming out and feeling things — maybe you don’t feel them at that moment. Are you sort of like a method actor and you get yourself inside those past emotions, and if so, does that make your life more hurtful? Because that would seem like reliving painful moments night after night would be really hard. Are there ever songs you can’t play or anything like that, just because you’re feeling them so strongly?

JR: There are times when I feel that songs are super important to me in the moment, onstage, but it always sneaks up on me. Sometimes it becomes very emotional, but I’ve never been one to feel like I can let the song totally control me in those moments. When I’m on stage and singing, my body — I just go to sleep, in a way. Any pains or aches or anything you’re thinking about for the rest of the day just disappears. It’s an amazing thing that I think happens to a lot of performers. I’m really lucky that it happens to me, because singing songs every night has to be a new experience; every time it has to feel real and new, and the only way for that to happen is for you to just go into that kind of trance. And it’s not even an arty-farty thing, like it’s real — it’s a real trance moment, and it’s the most fun thing being up there, which is why I really enjoy singing a song like “Kathleen” even after ten years, it’s just so much fun and so enjoyable.

With these songs, I had my say when I wrote them and when I recorded them. And now when I play them, my responsibility is to play them really well and to play them in a way that people can relate to them. I feel like you spend a lot of time working on your recipes and trying them out, and then when you open the restaurant you want everybody to enjoy the food, you know what I mean? It feels that way. I want these songs to feel good and to be fun, and also to be useful, to be whatever people want them to be. When I’m on stage, I have to play them as powerfully as I can. Or hey, maybe I’m just talking crazy, maybe they will affect me. Maybe when I see you at the Ogden, or whatever, I’ll be just a wreck!

Heather: Have you played these songs a lot yet?

JR: I’ve played them a little bit, I took the band up on a small tour of kind of the Eastern seaboard and Canada to try them out. I don’t want to be the guy that plays the entire record in a night, because I know that there are a lot of songs that people would like to see…we want to play other songs too. So I want to make sure that if the new songs fit in, they fit in well, and that we fit the right ones in at the right times, so they just feel like part of the gang when we start playing them.


Ben: Hey Josh. So, we’ve all heard a lot of breakup albums dealing with similar circumstances, but I feel like yours is one of the few that comes out pretty uplifting for going through such a tough time. Were there times when you were writing this album, or when you started out with this process that you were writing more …vengeful songs? If so, when did it turn into the result, because I feel this record comes out on top.

JR: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I think first, partially, it was a question of “What do I feel good playing?’ The other thing was that, while I write songs for me, I also can’t help but see the other people that will eventually be in the room when I start playing it. I feel the weight of saying something that is really true. I want to see if it feels true to me. When I first started writing after all that stuff went down, I was writing really angry, angry songs — really mean, vengeful songs. They weren’t any good, they were just terrible — they were badly written, they were full of thrashing around. It’s just like if you were to throw an angry Chihuahua in the water. It was like that, and I could feel it, but as I wrote them they were a way to feel like I had some sort of power in what had happened to me.

As time went by those songs just kind of sat there and I knew they were no good, but I still felt like I had an attachment to them. So what Sam (Kassirer) did, my producer, he said “You just clear the deck and come up and record, and we’ll record all that stuff.” And we did. And just hearing it recorded and seeing it the way it was, that was useful just to get it out of the way. That was approaching on catharsis, and putting those songs to rest and kind of saying “Yeah, these are no good” was important. Getting those out of the way really made it possible to do what came next.

Heather: That’s a good answer. I think that’s good to think of it as getting it out and getting it out of the way, and that Sam was able to see the need to do that, and that you trusted him enough to get that out there and do it, and see what happened to it, you know?

JR: He’s an amazing guy, he’s was really generous. He knows I don’t want to be a mean guy.

Heather: Nope. You don’t.

Em: Hello. So I feel like most of your stuff before, like Bringing in the Darlings, was told from “Josh the storyteller”, and this is more of you as a person on this album. So do you think that’s your new voice, or was there a way you could have gotten all of this out and still had the same outcome for yourself, telling it more from a storyteller sort of way?

JR: I don’t think I could have, you know? I think there are people that can. And I certainly think there’s this tradition of really great storytelling …I think Bruce Springsteen can tell beautiful stories like “The River” — he just tells these stories so well, even though they didn’t necessarily happen to him. I had spent all this time writing these “larger” stories in songs, and it ended up becoming something which I’m really happy about but that couldn’t have gone on any longer. I think I was starting to feel the fray of that pretty hard. Because it limits you in some ways — things can only get bigger and more ornate, and stories can only get more complicated, and then suddenly they become dissatisfying, or they become too long for a song.

So I really think I got to that point with So Runs the World Away, and I didn’t really know what else I was going to do, and then that stuff came along and knocked the wind out of my sails and made it kind of impossible to write about any other stuff. Other stories just pale in comparison to your own story when it’s happening, you know what I mean? It’s more fun to wallow in your own story than in some other story. I think this might be the beginning of some new stuff, although I don’t think about it as necessarily autobiographical, so much as like… there are great albums like Wildflowers, that beautiful Tom Petty record, or Time (The Revelator), a Gillian Welch record, which aren’t autobiographical, but have a beautiful personal voice to them, without being larger stories.


Jon Jon: I have a question from Faith –who wasn’t able to make it– she said congratulations on the baby, and she was wondering how that has changed your outlook on life and your perspective, and how that has maybe changed your music?

Heather: And full disclosure: Jon Jon, who’s asking the question, is expecting his first baby in July.

JR: Oh congratulations, man!

Heather: Get ready to not sleep, ever!

JR: Yeah, I didn’t know what to expect. But, I think Haley [Tanner, author, and Josh’s partner] and I have both felt that there is this given narrative about doing music or art or whatever: that in exchange for this chance to make art, you have to give something up – a stable family life, a happy mental life, whatever. And it just — it can’t be. That narrative can’t be true. I feel like you can’t make great art if you’re truly, truly unhappy. The tortured artist is a horrible place to live, you know? It doesn’t give it any more weight or power. Why should any of us who take a chance doing something we love have to give up a chance for a family? I really believe that. It was definitely scary and freaky to think about.

We’re packing up right now and we’re all gonna be on the road in a few days, baby and all. But I think the things that have changed for me, just in these four months since Beatrix was born, I was noticing how my approach to writing has changed. My enjoyment of it has gotten so rich, in that short while. I used to sit around for six hours, like a little prince on a cushion thinking my thoughts, you know? And I don’t have time for that anymore. If I have time to write now, or if Haley has time to write, it’s at most like an hour. But you have tons of time to think! When you’re just walking around rocking her, and you have an idea you can’t write down, you have to hold it in your head, and it rolls around in there like marbles and it gets better and better and better. So when you have that hour and you have one crystal thought, you write it down when it’s perfect. And when you lie in bed exhausted at the end of the day, you can put a pin in it and say “I did that today!” That’s a much more rewarding experience. You may only be able to write one page of a book, or whatever, but a single page now is like gold!

Heather: I think it also changes the stakes, too. When you have kids and you’re doing something creative, the ability and time to be creative is filtered through fire, in a way. You have to fight to dedicate time towards what it is that you’re creating, and you have to really believe in it to carve out a space for it.

JR: Totally! Absolutely! I absolutely agree!

Betsy: So for me on this album, the song “New Lover” was what hooked me into the entire album. And I think it’s because it was the first song I heard, and it was maybe the most honest piece of songwriting I’ve heard in a long time. I was wondering if for you, if there was a certain song or a certain time along the process where it kind of hooked it for you, that this was going to become an album, and that you were maybe writing songs more with the thought in mind that ‘this is going to be a finished product’ that you would eventually tour with and record?

JR: Yeah! That song was “New Lover” for this record! That’s awesome that you thought that. Yeah, I was sitting at my friend Ed’s house, and I was working and writing all these horrible songs that sounded terrible to me. And then “New Lover” came along and I wrote it in the morning. It was still wintertime, but it was one of the first nice days of spring, and this song felt like it came out really fast. I was so proud of it, it was startling to me! It felt I accidentally found a way through the woods and through the emotions, to say — okay, it can be mixed, things can be mixed. Nothing has to be all one way or the other. Our love and our heartbreak, and all that stuff is mixed. It’s never the same thing. It’s never all the same thing all the way through. It’s like, here’s something I wish you could’ve done better, here’s something I guess I misunderstood, and it was my fault and I apologize. And that it can all go through in that complex way.

That was the first time I thought “Well, I could actually have a record here.” That moment happens for me with every record. With the last record, it was “The Curse”, with the record before it was, uh, I think it was “To The Dogs or Whoever” and then like Animal Years, it was “Girl in the War,” and then “Snow is Gone.” There always seems to be one song that feels like it gives you the kind of “pow” of stuff that you’re looking for, then you can take that apart and kind of explode it a little bit.

Abby: Yeah, I have a question! So we’ve talked about sort of different writing influences, and different voices between albums. I’m just curious what writing looks like right now, not just holding the baby and getting some words out at the end of the day, maybe, but actually the mental process?

JR: Sure! Right now when I’m writing, I feel pretty infused, pretty happy. I’ve written some other stuff that I’m just fishing around for, collecting feelings and ideas. Right now I’m really working on my new book, which I’m really excited about. In terms of restraint, the new book is completely unbound and nutso and it’s really fun — written with real happiness.


With Bright’s Passage, I was very much saying, “I think I’m actually going to be able to do this!” This book feels like I’m not worried about being able to get done with it. Right now, I’m just loving it – the feeling of creation, right now it feels like nothing has a bad consequence. I’m enjoying just the act of making something. I’m not worried about anything, we’re all healthy, everybody’s good. I can’t remember a time in my life when I was ever having a such a fully good time writing. The new book feels very biological and fun and sloppy, with terrible language (laughs).

Heather: I have a question for you, Josh. When I was setting up Album Club and getting the entries and reading all of the emails, I was bowled over by how many deeply thoughtful, really heavy, dense stories I got from people who wrote to me their thoughts about how your music had connected with them and what your music had meant to them at very difficult grief-filled hard parts of their life. You do realize that you’re inviting that on yourself even more with this record?! Like – how do you…I don’t even know what my question is, other than just I’m interested to hear what your perspective is on that deep connection between your music and real-life stories that people let you enter into, that you get to play a big part in. That must be pretty overwhelming?

JR: I think that, you know, when I listen to music, it’s medicine. It lets us…we take it when we need it. Sometimes it’s around us and we can’t avoid it and we can’t escape it. But most of the time I feel like those of us who love music and are active music listeners, we find it when we need it, you know? And it has to be for a reason. It has to be because there’s something in that particular music that we need, physically in our lives and in our heads for that moment.

I know for a fact that there’s times when I’ve needed to listen to Lucinda Williams or Tom Waits or even Marian Anderson, whoever it is. You don’t know why you want them, but you want them really bad, over and over. We’ve been on a Dolly Parton kick in our house recently. She does something to us right now that must be important. So I think that if you’re lucky enough that you’re making music and people find it useful, that’s what it should be! It should be useful. And if it is, then that’s just the highest praise. It really is. And it’s amazing that it happens.

Maddy: This isn’t a question, but just so you know, I think one of the most impressive things about this album is compared to a lot of breakup albums…a lot of that kind of songwriting can be helpful in that it validates feelings are universal for everyone sometime. And for this one, you do a really good job of doing that, and also offering hope or the ability to imagine something better, which I think is not something that is frequently accomplished with this, and I think makes it all the more powerful.

JR: Thank you! Thanks a lot. That’s amazing, thank you very much.

Mackensie: Last question. What is The Beast? And how do you kill or get rid of The Beast?

JR: Well I’m thinking again of that Teddy Roosevelt book that I loved, and I really responded to this thing he said: “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.” And I thought that is so true, and I needed that so much in that time. You’ve got to keep moving, in hard times more than ever — just keep moving, keep doing stuff. The Beast is really this looming sense that when the sun goes down, your brain is gonna go. You’re gonna melt down. You’re gonna melt down. You can either melt yourself down, or you can keep on moving forward. During that time, I did all kinds of crazy stuff. Some of it was really bad.

I wrote a whole other book, which was a book about a guy trying to make his way across the country and it was ridiculous and weird, and it makes next to no sense. But I was writing it so fast because I was just trying to do stuff. And those songs that I wrote in that time, those were songs that were just trying to keep one step ahead of that feeling that my life was over, and that thing that I really believed in was a lie. I know that that’s not the case now, and of course I would not have believed that for long, but at that time it was hard not to sort of feel that maybe, there was a small suspicion.

So, The Beast is just that feeling of kind of heartbreak and desolation and giving up. I saw a sign somewhere that said “Stop the Beast in its Tracks” and I loved that. I love it.

Heather: Well, Josh…we love you, buddy. We’ll let you go pack for tour, and thank you, so much, for taking this time with us. I love that we could all get together and connect, and most of these people I hadn’t met before tonight. Thank you for giving us a space to do that. I think this is a wonderful thing.

JR: This is awesome. You guys get home safe. Thank you for paying me this huge compliment!


Come see Josh Ritter in Denver with the Album Club on March 27th, and then pretty much everywhere else on God’s green earth in the coming months.

[Thanks to Kevin Ihle for chronicling Album Club in photos, and to the terrific Em for help with transcription as well.]

February 27, 2013

Introducing: Fuel/Friends Album Club #1 – The Beast In Its Tracks


I am unveiling something new here at Fuel/Friends today that I hope will become a new regular feature, linking us together in the dogged and thoughtful pursuit of music that means something to us personally.

Josh Ritter‘s team and I have come up with an idea to create a new endeavor called the Fuel/Friends Album Club, modeled after a book club. I am looking for five to ten thoughtful readers who would like to listen to & absorb the intimate, personal new Josh Ritter record with me, help come up with some questions for Josh about the album (which he will answer on my site) and then everyone in the Fuel/Friends Album Club gets to come to Josh’s show at Denver’s Ogden Theatre on March 27, with time to meet & talk with Josh.

The Beast In Its Tracks (out next week) is a striking record, and there are many threads to discuss. You can stream the entire album here on NPR this week, and you should do that. Everyone picked for Album Club gets the new record from me for free.

Interested in being considered for Album Club? Please email me ASAP. (edit: I’ve got more than enough wonderful entrants. Thanks!)

I am also very deeply pleased to feature this piece of guest writing today.

icon_thatwascoolTHE BEAST IN ITS TRACKS: a hyper-personal review

written by An Anonymous, Sweet Friend of Heather’s

It is a weird thing to be scared to press play on a record, especially when you love music, but that’s where I found myself with Josh Ritter’s new album The Beast In Its Tracks. See, I had just lived the stories I knew it contained, just had the love of my life leave, just had my world flipped upside down and lit on fire, and I wasn’t sure I was in a place where I could handle having those tales sung back to me. A funny thing happened, though, when I did finally scrape together the courage to hit play: I found the entire thing comforting, despite verse after verse that rehashed what had just hurt me so badly- I’ve stood in that cold, lonely kitchen he describes in ‘Hopeful,’ been unable to say her name because of it catching in my throat like in ‘New Lover,’ and been scared of each coming night like Ritter in ‘Nightmares.’

There’s a weird comfort in knowing you’re not the only one to live something, that those feelings you’re consumed by and which swing wildly and without warning aren’t out of the ordinary. The album is a lot of things- devastating, honest, raw, angry, heartbreaking, and full of grace- but the idea that Ritter’s story, and by extension, mine, has a happy ending is what sticks with me each time through, that this winter of discontent will end and that love, which I still believe in despite all that’s happened, will win out in the end. When you’re struggling with heartbreak, and the times are dark, it’s tough to allow that hope in, to allow yourself the belief that you will build a strong, rich life on your own out of the ashes of your old life and the pain and confusion that inhabits the new, foreign life you’ve been forced to start.

The Beast In Its Tracks is a focused, stunning piece of work, a collection of songs about a heart breaking and healing that manages to never crush itself under the weight of its sad, heavy subject. It’s an album that pushed me to a limit I didn’t want to test — and ended up showing me that I, and indeed all of us, will be fine in the end, that a happy conclusion isn’t such a far-fetched idea.

December 11, 2012

if I’d never have met you, you couldn’t have gone

Proud new papa Josh Ritter released a new song this morning, along with word that he’s releasing a new record called The Beast In Its Tracks on March 5th. I hear such beautiful regeneration all through this song, and that feels vibrantly good to hear, and to understand.

“I wrote and recorded this record in the 18 months after my marriage had fallen apart,” Josh writes. “All heartbreak is awful – my broken heart wasn’t unique. But writing these songs was helping me get through the night and I didn’t have the strength to care or question.

It felt like a different record from the start. Far from the grand, sweeping feel of the songs on So Runs the World Away, these new ones felt like rocks in the shoe, hard little nuggets of whatever they were, be it spite, remorse, or happiness. I told all this to Sam Kassirer, my producer and friend. If we recorded these songs, which felt so personal, their starkness needed a corresponding simplicity of production. I hadn’t composed this stuff, I’d scrawled it down, just trying to keep ahead of the heartbreak, and they needed to be recorded like that.”

“there’s pain in whatever we stumble upon
if I’d never have met you, you couldn’t have gone
but then I wouldn’t have met you
and we couldn’t have been
I guess it all adds up
joy in the end…”


I just ordered the 7″ clear vinyl, which will also be in independent record stores next week. The free mp3 I got when I ordered the single is going on my personal version of my holiday mix, because this is the best kind of joy to the world. The Fuel/Friends Christmas Mix should be arriving tomorrow morning; I am waiting for a special artist to finish writing a special song to complete the mix, and then you can start enjoying it as much as I have been.

Tagged with .
February 11, 2012

why spend your only life waiting

From the surprise new EP from Josh Ritter of “immediate” and “small” songs that he is excited to share; I am excited to receive.

It’s always a fun process, and what you’re trying to do is balance the art form of the recording with the excitement of recording it. I think there’s a certain spark when something’s written and it rolls off the tongue easily, and you can always hear the person’s excitement when it’s happening.”
[Josh, via]

That’s one of the reasons that Josh is one of my favorite musicians. That spark of joy is palpable in the immediacy.

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March 22, 2011

Fuel/Friends dives in at SXSW 2011

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On Wednesday night, as we braced ourselves for the marvelous musical onslaught that was churning ready to release onto the streets of Austin, somebody told me that the SXSW Festival was 40% larger this year than last. I have no idea if that is true because I am terrible at estimating numbers of anything, but I can certainly believe it, as SXSW continues to grow and draw so many acts down to Texas that I always leave feeling like I’ve been through a musical washing machine. Or maybe I feel like that episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ where she is trying to eat the chocolates that just keep coming so fast, and more, and more, and more. No one can keep up with all that deliciousness, but I was game to try. I’m always game.

After a splendid opening reception for media at Austin City Hall with some excellent local talent and gift bags with bottles of Tito’s (uh oh), I headed as quickly as I could over to Bat Bar for Walk The Moon, to start my SXSW 2011 off right. You know I was mightily excited. With the crowd packed close and the bar walls open to Sixth Street passersby stopping to watch, their set was crackling with the kind of kinetic confidence that comes easiest in youth. Their energetic, dancey set can best be illustrated by two texts I sent to a friend while I was trying to convince him to come over.

9:24pm: “These guys are adorable. And twenty.
9:26pm: “And wearing facepaint.

It was everything I had hoped for. The first show of my SXSW was also the feel-good winner. I had to stop filming a video clip because I decided I had to dance instead.

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I want to join Wild Flag. I want them to adopt me as egg-shaker rocker girl (since I couldn’t depose the formidable Janet Weiss, of Sleater-Kinney, as their drummer) and take me on tour with them, so I could bask in their rock glory every night. Fronted by Carrie Brownstein, this new band of Pacific Northwest badasses were phenomenal at the NPR party, playing their squalling guitars held behind their heads. Their songs had strong driving melodies and basslines, with that singsong female voice that sounds even better with the right heft behind it.

Their MySpace helpfully says “Apt adjectives for describing the band’s music: wild. Also: flaggy.” To that I would add: really damn good. Cannot wait to get their (Britt Daniel-produced) first 7″ on Record Store Day.

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After lunch on Thursday I started out from the house I was staying at, and walked past the Auditorium Shores where The Strokes were due to play that night. There was already an amazingly long line of kids standing waiting in line for the free set. Even if it hadn’t been for the multitude of Strokes shirts in incarnations from the last decade on every other person, it would have been fun (and easy) to try and tell which band they were waiting for just based on the fashion.

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That night was my first time seeing The Strokes, and it was long overdue. I was giddy with anticipation. For a band that saw its comeuppance in small NYC clubs and the sweaty intensity of raucous tiny shows, I was acutely aware that something was missing from the way I was experiencing them for the first time, but beggars can’t be choosers, as they say, and to me they sounded absolutely terrific. With the Austin skyline silhouetting them, their set peppered with new songs, Julian brought his lackadaisical drawl (I’ve always said it sounds as if he can’t be arsed to get up off the couch), but there was that underlying edge, the guitars and drums tight and spot-on.

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On most days, this is my favorite Strokes song, and I just stood there with a big stupid grin on my face to get to see it from so close.

The set ended with a massive bombardment of surprise fireworks that started exploding during the opening drumbeat of “Last Nite.” I am a sucker for fireworks. I also thought fleetingly about some sort of metaphor in there for a band that used to cause all the fireworks themselves in small dark clubs, now playing such massive stages that they can light off pyrotechnics into the night air.

After a quick beer with my drummer friend Robby from These United States (who looks awesomely like Jesus these days, and whose sets I totally missed in Austin this year, sadly) I headed off – to church.

The rootsy new G. Love album, produced by the Avett Brothers, feels very much like the album he was always meant to make, and since it was recorded in a church, this seemed also like the setting I was absolutely meant to see it performed live in for the first time. Joined by Luther Dickinson from the Black Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars for a few songs, he wailed and howled and stomped his way through his very solid and compelling set.

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Lord Huron from Los Angeles were more potent and feisty live than their warm and woolly EP suggests. Instead of bringing that Fleet Foxes meets Edward Sharpe vibe, they cranked up the percussion (dude was wearing a washboard on his chest and I wanted to run away with him immediately into the Texas night) and were entirely danceable, in a near-tropical way.

The Stranger – Lord Huron

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My night ended on Thursday watching all dozen+ members of Gayngs (with Justin Vernon, and a dude in a white cape) cover George Michael’s “One More Try” to a packed Mohawk crowd. I just looked around a little confused and tried my best not to enjoy it (longstanding hatred of GM). And then sang it all the way home, dammit.

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Friday’s mercury climbed into the sticky-uncomfortable range, and became the day I decided to start a new photoblog called It is going to be completely amazing. From the moment I left the house, the sweat beads formed and were unrelenting, and I saw a large number of skinny jeans pulled up into man-capris, and plenty of dark clothing and impractical scarves sweat through. I was grateful for my dress.

To escape the heat, and because there is a fantastically vibrant scene there right now, our first stop of the day parties on Friday was the SXSeattle showcase at Copa, where we caught Ravenna Woods, Young Evils (harmonic, well-crafted pop with a kickass girl drummer named Faustine), and a hip-hop artist named Sol that we danced our asses off to, to spite the heat. I also had the WINNING moment of Damien Jurado showing me his driver’s license so I would believe who he was. Ummmm, the heat was scrambling my brain? Sigh. Sorry Damien. You are awesome and I know it.

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Get Over It – Young Evils

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Later that afternoon, I caught one of the most high energy sets with Middle Brother playing to a packed Barbarella backyard porch. This is the supernova collaboration between three excellent bands: Deer Tick, Dawes, and Delta Spirit. There was a genuine affinity between the three frontmen (see kiss below) and lots of interaction with / dancing in / throwing beer on the crowd to complement their crunchy riffs and early-’60s garage rock feel. [VIDEO: Me, Me, Me]

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I also, not surprisingly, kept finding myself at The Head and The Heart shows – I think three in 2 days, by my count. The buzz on the street for them was thrilling. After SPIN Magazine hyped them as their #2 band to watch at SXSW 2011, it seemed that everywhere I went (photographers pit, radio lunches, that welcome reception) people were asking each other if they’d seen them yet. I had a few friends to drag to see them, so I happily went along spreading the gospel.

They played a wickedly hot midday show at Lustre Pearl for the Dickies/FILTER party on Thursday afternoon (their first “real” one, they said, meaning to a bunch of sweaty kids instead of to industry folks). Then on Friday, both the legendary Antone’s as well as headlining the Sub Pop showcase at 1am, before heading to the airport for their European tour with The Low Anthem. They left vapor trails in their wake, from an explosive week for them.

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In between Head and The Heart sets on Friday night, I popped into the Ale House for my favorite Australian from last year’s SXSW, Andy Clockwise. Completely dousing the audience with charisma like gasoline, Clockwise commands you watch him, and commands you enjoy. He brought the girl next to me up onto stage to play electric guitar and I couldn’t help but be jealous of her badassery.

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Josh Ritter played the St. David’s Church sanctuary at 10:30pm, and I got in only for the last few songs. It was quite a shift after Andy Clockwise, but it was utterly spellbinding, and –as you can imagine– transcendent. If there is a more poignant moment than Ritter performing “In The Dark” in a church, in the dark, with the crowd singing softly and spontaneously along, I don’t think I can handle it.

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Saturday morning I hopped right on up out of bed (ouch, cowboy boot blisters, ouch) ready to tackle the final full day of SXSW. By that day, everyone is feeling it and you best be talking quiet. Denver’s soiree of the music year at the Reverb Party was happening at Parkside, and it was on the lovely rooftop patio overlooking Sixth Street. Since I forgot to have a breakfast taco back home, my day started gently with Great Divide’s Wild Raspberry Ale (I mean, this is Colorado, so we do up our free beer at day parties RIGHT).

Port Au Prince is the new project of some good friends from the now-defunct band Astrophagus, back with a completely different sound. They are more accessible but still smart, with call-and-response melodies that made me happy when they rang down over Sixth Street.

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I headed over to the Ryan’s Smashing Life blog party at Rusty Spurs, where Adam Duritz did a cameo appearance with the rapper NOTAR that he has signed to his T Recs label. I definitely gushed on a little too much when I met him about what his music has meant to me over the years. But then again, let’s be honest I am not known for hiding my feelings, and Duritz has been a major force in my musical development over the years. It was a great moment for me.


Also at that same party I got to check out the super talented Ivan & Alyosha from Seattle who were having quite a bit of fun up there. They’ve named their band after brothers from Dostoyevsky who struggle with faith and family ties, and chats with them before their set belie a depth of intelligence that is palpable in their smart, substantial songwriting. One of my favorite unexpected discoveries of the festival.

Easy To Love – Ivan & Alyosha

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Then I went and decided to Mess With Texas at their free outdoors day party on the other side of the highway, and in a shocking role reversal it ended up just completely messing with me instead. I was sending texts about !!! and people thought I was so excited that I was forgetting a word in there, but really I was just totally wowed by their live set. For a man wearing (very) short blue shorts and a purple striped polo shirt, the lead singer of !!! had charisma in droves. Despite my weepingly aching feet, I found myself dancing harder than I have in a very long time, there on the dusty field.

I’ve been googling lead singer Nic Offer today (since I’ve decided to abduct him for a dance party, after that show – and that Prince outtake they covered!), and this quote from the A.V. Club profile on him pretty much sums it up in the very best possible way:

“A few years back, I perfected ‘The Prance,’ where you’re almost skipping in place and you have a look on your face that says “Nobody’s business, ain’t nobody’s business if I do!”

I do so adore a man who isn’t afraid to dance. As one of the best songs on their new album says, my intentions with him are unabashedly bass.

Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass – !!!

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I packed into the giant sweaty tent for the ass-shaking extravaganza that was a Big Freedia show that I was promised would change my life (I never thought I would see a black man with a pompadour that impressive also have those sort of limber hips) and then almost died during Odd Future (no seriously) and evacuated the premises.

The last show I saw at SXSW 2011 was Rural Alberta Advantage at the Central Presbyterian Church late Saturday night. I have an affinity for the resonance of churches, and the simple quietude that is found in the shows that happen there. I am someone who is familiar with the interiors of churches, and lately shows like the RAA are the most deeply resounding and peaceful of the connections I make. Their set sounded fantastic: affecting, urgent, and honest. There was a simple joy, and words that needed to burn their way out. Their latest album Departing has been on non-stop repeat even before their set, but so much moreso after.

For their final song, they unplugged and walked down the red velvet aisle to stand among us and perform a stripped and perfect version of “Good Night.”

rush into the woods where we first felt god
ripple through our veins from the moment when we touched

When Nils threw his head back and the veins popped out on the side of his neck and he howled, “someday if you get it together in your heart / maybe we might get back together but good night….” I started crying and wasn’t even sure why, except for identifying with the longing permeating each syllable. It wasn’t a specific loss, rather a cumulative one.

I wandered alone through loud and colorful streets for about another hour, watching the expansive Laurel-Canyon sounds of Dawes for a few minutes from the street outside the crowded Lustre Pearl, but ultimately took my iPod, cued up Departing, and started the long walk home. The air was heavy and warm, and the as I crossed the river the almost-full moon was reflecting off the ripples. And of course, with so many songs ringing in my head, I was happy. There is no festival like this one.

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[all of my best pictures from the week are here on the Fuel/Friends Facebook page]

January 1, 2011

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2010

sound wave

And so, another year marches to a close — another fantastic, adventure-filled, technicolor year. It’s the time when all of us start kicking around our neatly-bulleted lists of bests and worsts. For me, the more I read these lists, the more I feel that I missed more albums and artists than I heard this year.

The stats are staggering: in 2002, about 33,000 albums were released. In 2006 that number was 75,000. Last year close to 100,000 albums were released, with only roughly 800 of those albums selling more than 5K. It’s tough out there — to be heard, and to feel as a listener that you have adequately given a shot to even a fraction of a representative sample of one year’s offerings. I always feel this keening bittersweet regret at the end of each year, as so much more music was released than any one human woman can possibly digest or invest in.

That being said, I had a fairly simple time picking what my personal favorite albums were for 2010, of the ones I heard. I absolutely loved what Carrie Brownstein wrote on her NPR blog about these year-end lists.

She muses: “So I’ll admit that I’m not quite certain how to sum up an entire year in music anymore; not when music has become so temporal, so specific and personal, as if we each have our own weather system and what we listen to is our individual forecast. I’ve written a lot about music bringing people together, fomenting community, and many albums still did act as bonfires in 2010 . . . but many of us are also walking around with a little lighter in hand, singing along to some small glow that’s stuck around long enough to make us feel excited to be alive.”

That is exactly, precisely what I feel. And really, what is any top ten list but an assessment of those songs, those artists, those albums that have hit us square in the solar plexus exactly where we are sitting?

These are the albums that lodged deep and sharp into my red heart and made this year richer, smarter, harder and easier, sharper, sparklier, and all the more brilliant. And some of them seriously made me dance.



(Nonesuch Records)

This is just one of the coolest albums released all year — maybe all decade. And I mean the kind of cool that is quintessential, untouchable, badass, just strutting down a sunny street with-your-own-theme-song type of cool. It blends their trademark swampy, bluesy, fuzzed-out guitars with crisp sharp beats that sliced right through that weight the first time I put this album in, on my roadtrip to Missouri. I think I listened to it on repeat through at least two (long, loooong) states and it was love at first listen from that point on.

Additionally – if there is a sicker breakdown all year than what happens here at 1:02, I don’t wanna know about it.

The Go Getter – The Black Keys


dan mangan

(Arts & Crafts)

This album from the Canadian side of the verdant Pacific Northwest was an unexpected discovery this year, recommended to me by a friend who helps arrange the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (another favorite thing of this year, but hey we’ll get to that). Dan Mangan has made a dense, thoroughly gorgeous album, heavy on the intelligent lyrics, his oaky-warm voice weaving in amongst a whole orchestra of instruments. This album is beautifully arranged and well-crafted, one you can swim deeply in during rainy days all winter long (although I discovered it in August and it sounded just as good in the sticky warmth).

Basket – Dan Mangan

(Amigo/Amiga Records)

Drew Grow and his band The Pastors’ Wives hail from Portland, making music that easily straddles and jumps across genres to create something marvelously rich and endlessly interesting. The sound production throughout feels like an old, warm, crackly album (tip: get it on white vinyl while you can) with something urgent to say. From those fuzzy, sexy, pleadingly plaintive blues jams like “Company” to the aggressive push-and-tug of the rowdy “Bootstraps” and the dulcet golden ’50s croon of songs like “Hook,” this album has pleased me completely. Every song is a favorite.

The opening “Bon Voyage Hymn” sets the tone for this album (if it has one) of a sort of rough-hewn, honest, rock gospel as Drew howls, “Sing a shelter over me / With a mighty chorus, slaves set free.” And by that I mean the oldest spirit of gospel, in community and a shared love of singing, with our heads thrown back and our feet stomping — but while the guitar squalls and the dirty drums crash. At the house show they played for me in November, it was like the best kind of church, a jaw-dropping explosion of goodness.

Company – Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives

N.B.: Drew also has a stunning new acoustic EP.



From the first evening back in early summer when I streamed this Seattle six-piece’s songs on my tinny computer speakers, I was reeled in hook line and sinker. The song sang about something that sounds like a hallelujah, the sheer delight of embracing with all of your heart and both your dancing shoes, and no band this year has given me more of that musical enjoyment – whether in a parking garage very late at night, or in the living room of an old house. Amidst the warmth, the uncanny wisdom, and undeniably catchy musical & rhythmic foundations of this band, there is magic. We will be hearing a good deal more from them in 2011, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Sounds Like Hallelujah – The Head and The Heart


(XL Recording)

This is, simply put, a kinetic album. Jónsi blends his native Icelandic language with forays into English, creating the dizzying effect of running fast through a dream forest, not exactly understanding what is being said and not needing to. He’s made an intricate, joyful album of grandeur that is uplifting and challenging without being overly twee or silly. It is a delicate balance to strike. The paint-spatter of colors on the album cover precisely depict what this explosive album sounds like – purple, yellow, deep red, shot through with sunlight.

This album was completely unlike anything else that I heard this year, and made me simultaneously smile widely and furrow my brow. It’s the most imaginative album I’ve heard all year, perfect at evoking things like riding the back of a jet-black dragon over canyons. Yes, and yes. Please.

Go Do – Jónsi

Addendum: I also just laughed very loudly for a good minute and a half after I just connected the mental dots to the possible inspiration for this album, or at least this song.



(Pytheas Records)

I’ve said before that I think Josh Ritter is one of the most important and talented songwriters of our generation; this album is a stellar example of why. Through these thirteen sprawling songs, Josh demonstrates to me again exactly why I love the way that he sees the world. When I interviewed him this summer, he said he admires those who “see what everybody else has seen, think what nobody else has thought.”

Josh pens incisive, piercing, widely-varying folk songs with the comfortable intelligence of one who is in no hurry, yet is passionate in pursuing his muse and getting his stories out into the world. Highlights here like “The Curse,” “Folk Bloodbath,” “Another New World,” and “Lantern” are jaw-dropping. Josh has a remarkable way of teasing out truths about the world (seen and unseen), and poking into the human conditions in my own heart with a greater acuity than most out there.

Lantern – Josh Ritter

That song also contains one of my favorite lyrics of this entire year: “So throw away those lamentations, we both know them all too well / If there’s a book of jubilations, we’ll have to write it for ourselves / So come and lie beside me darlin’ — let’s write it while we still got time.”


(Fat Possum)

From the first time I heard Lissie’s soulful, immensely evocative voice earlier this year on her song “Everywhere I Go,” I was riveted. Who was this slight, freckled blond gal with the echoes of an entire fifty-member church choir in her lungs? Originally from Rock Island, Illinois, Lissie has harnessed both the brilliance of the sunshine of her new California home on her debut album, as well as all the gnarls of her roots. Bluesy, confident melodies and goosebump-inducing howls are here in scads — this is a notably substantial first album from a woman to be reckoned with.

Record Collector – Lissie



(Attitude Records)

“We could start tonight, slide back the deadbolts…” Matt Pond suggests at the beginning of this autumnal album with rich hues that gave me endless listening pleasure this year. I was glad I took him up on the invite. I’d admired the work of the Brooklyn songwriter in spurts and starts over the past few years, but this is the first album of his that I have really immersed myself into his uniquely lovely, thrumming view of the world.

There is a sort of expansive, wide-eyed glow in this album that seems to invite transcendent things to happen. From the specks of silver he sings about in the evening sky and the illumination all around us, I love the way things look like an adventure when I am listening. “First hips, then knees, then feet – don’t think anymore,” he sings. Good idea, Matt.

Starting – Matt Pond PA


(4AD Records)

This is a decimating, gorgeous, elegant album, much like Boxer was but with additional hints of weirdness and unsettled edges that I like. I was ridiculously excited about this album (in a sort of masochistic way, since I know full well what The National are capable of), devouring every word I could read about it before it came out. The single best definition I heard came from Matt Berninger himself when he said they wanted it to sound “like loose wool and hot tar.” In that regard, they completely succeed – their music is dark, burning, sticking to your skin and all your insides.

This is an incredible album full of terse, razor-sharp observations on the worries that wait in the shadows for me and gnaw when they get a chance: I think the kids are in trouble… you’ll never believe the shitty thoughts I think… I was less than amazing… I tell you terrible things when you’re asleep. But I won’t lie when I say I found some of the strongest redemption of my year in this music as well, with the closing track “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” — singing along with lines “all the very best of us string ourselves up for love / man it’s all been forgiven, swans are a-swimmin…” The honesty of the darkness shot through with these glints is what keeps drawing me back to these guys, fiercely.

Conversation 16 – The National


(Dead Oceans)

Kristian Mattson slays me – there are no two ways about it. When he sings on this album, “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” it is almost comical because nothing really seems further from the truth. Mattson’s songs have the kind of heft and intricacy that make me certain his music will be around for a very long time after him. His guitarwork is sparkling, impassioned, and inspired. The words he selects and the way he delivers them are pointed and deliberate. I can’t tell if his lyrics are so sharp in spite of the fact that English is not his first language, or because of it – as if perhaps he can see more clearly through our muddy sea of language to pick out the iridescent rocks from the river.

Also: it’s worth noting that his EP released this year was equally good – serious brilliant work.

King of Spain – The Tallest Man On Earth


cataldo - signal flareCATALDO – SIGNAL FLARE
(self-released, 2008)

I cannot stop listening to Eric Anderson, as evidenced by the fact that I have put him on just about every mix I made in 2010, and listen to this album most days lately on my walk to work. After a chance encounter with his music on a college radio show of a friend, I’ve been smitten by his earnest, unvarnished, incredibly catchy way of looking at the world that simultaneously makes me smile and breaks my heart. You know me. I like that.

He’s got a new album “Prison Boxing” coming out in 2011, according to Facebook. I plan to be substantially more on top of that one.

Signal Flare – Cataldo

Burning Stars – Mimicking Birds [link]
Tell ‘Em – Sleigh Bells [link]
Safe and Sound – Electric President [link]
Six O’Clock News (Kathleen Edwards cover) – Paul Jacobsen [link]
If A Song Could Get Me You – Marit Larsen [link]
Second Mind (live at the SF Independent) – Adam H. Stephens [link]
Fuck You – Cee Lo Green [link]
Carry Us Over – Kelli Schaefer [link]
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub [link]

Bringing Jeff Buckley’s music to a new life through Shakespeare [link]
Talking to my Italian musical hero on the Santa Monica Pier [link]

My forays into presenting house shows:
Drew Grow and The Pastors’ Wives with Kelli Schaefer (Nov 4, 2010)
The Head and The Heart (Nov 9, 2010)

Andy Clockwise at SXSW (March 2010)

Joe Pug house show (February 28, 2010)

Tallest Man On Earth (May 19, 2010)

Megafaun and their in-the-crowd rendition of “Worried Mind” (April 12, 2010)

Telluride Bluegrass Festival, holy mackerel.

This one.


I started 2010 with a Polar Bear Plunge and a vow that this year was gonna be ours, a year of intentionally acquiring adventures and memories that would make me smile when I was old and withered.

I think we did it, and these were the things that soundtracked it all.

[Sound Wave” sculpture at top by Jean Shin]

November 25, 2010

broken hearts and dirty windows

broken hearts and dirty windows

I started my morning with a hearty sing-in-the-shower rendition of “Angel From Montgomery” (those acoustics!) in the sticky warmth of Florida, and am ending it tonight back in the ten degree weather in clear cold Colorado. My sister asked over coffee what song I had been singing, and a discussion on John Prine followed. John Prine has stuck in my mind today, all his perfect lyrical constructions and simple folk truth, and was the soundtrack to my flight home this evening (while I finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and openly cried fat hot tears on the plane, but hey that’s another story).

If you own an old pickup truck (or can borrow one) to traverse some dusty roads in the countryside, this year’s Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows compilation of John Prine covers sounds especially good. The title of the album comes from the 1972 song “Souvenirs” (“Broken hearts and dirty windows / make life difficult to see”), and I’ve been meaning to mention this comp for months. The whole record is obviously rich because of the fodder to work with and the superb gathering of artists contributing, but I think Conor Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band contribute my favorite cover of the bunch:

My car is stuck in Washington and I cannot find out why
Come sit beside me on the swing and watch the angels cry
It’s anybody’s ballgame, it’s everybody’s fight
And the streetlamp said as he nodded his head
It’s lonesome out tonight

Stylistically this absolutely fits in with the rollicking twang of their own compositions on 2008′s Outer South, and Conor’s caged, restless energy shines through brilliantly.

But there are so many great tracks on this collection, from the Avett Brothers singin’ about blowing up your TV and moving to the country, to Josh Ritter’s “Mexican Home” (which I got to see him perform live in Telluride), to My Morning Jacket’s “All The Best” (reminiscent of the golden buoyancy of the track they contributed to the I’m Not There soundtrack). Add to that a glowing Justin Vernon, the pensive Justin Townes Earle, the heartbreak of Deer Tick, then pin it all together with Prine’s first-rate songwriting and I am sold.

Stream the whole thing and buy it over on Bandcamp for just ten bucks. They’ve got it tagged with classifications of “indie, Nashville.” Sounds about right to me.

My only frown came from the fact that no one covered “Speed of The Sound of Loneliness,” my favorite Prine tune. Luckily Amos Lee did a perfect one in 2003:

Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness (John Prine) – Amos Lee

November 11, 2010

to believe in this living is just a hard way to go

So, this happened last night…

Josh Ritter Hold Steady eTown 094

Josh Ritter and his talented Royal City Band played the final song, “Angel From Montgomery” with The Hold Steady. Never in a million years would I peg this pairing as one that would work, but it absolutely did. Listen for the eTown show in 6-8 weeks (like the secret decoder ring you sent away for in the mail).

During the eTown interview process last night, Josh spoke of how this current album So Runs The World Away feels for the first time like this is his party, a statement of his permanency, and that he’ll be making music for a long time. He headlines Denver’s Ogden Theater tonight, and I can’t wait.

November 8, 2010

Josh Ritter + The Hold Steady in Colorado this week (win tickets!)



Coloradans! Josh Ritter is returning to our fair state for the first time since his jaw-droppingly rich Telluride set this summer, way off beyond them hills.

This time he is coming closer to the more populated regions, playing Wednesday night (11/10) in Fort Collins for an eTown taping with The Hold Steady (what? really? I know, right?!).

Thursday night Josh is headlining the Ogden with his full Royal City Band, with support from a Denver musician who goes by the name of Thieving Irons.

shows_ive_seenWIN TICKETS, YOU SAY?!
Surely. Fuel/Friends has one pair of tickets for the eTown taping in Fort Collins to give away, and two pairs for the Denver show on Thursday night. To win, you must email me your favorite Josh Ritter lyric, and why you love it, and tell me which show you are entering for. I’ll be at both shows, looking forward to it.

[top image credit Brian Stowell, Ritter merch guy extraordinaire. Second image mine from one of the best SXSW shows ever.]

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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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