My little brother has been trying for about a dozen songs now to best me by sending me something marvelous that I’ve never heard. He’s far away living in Sydney with his Aussie girlfriend now, and I miss him terribly, so I was thrilled to let him win this latest incarnation of Stump The Sister.
Joseph Arthur‘s duet with R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe wended its way halfway around the world from Down Under to the Rocky Mountain State, and the more I’ve listened to it, the more it’s grown on me and put roots down into me. Joseph has been recommended to me before several times, and I’ve long said that Michael Stipe has my favorite male vocalist voice of anyone, so his addition to this already-beautiful song is welcomed.
This weekend finds me back in California, this time for a wedding of a dear friend. She was so kind as to schedule her wedding on the same weekend as the totally freeHardly Strictly Bluegrass Festivalin Golden Gate Park (where I just was for this madness). Not only does this “really cool” festival bring together an amazingly high-quality range of artists (most with rootsy Americana underpinnings), they encourage you to bring your own beer. Really. I checked the website.
Athens, Georgia alt-country/folk artist Vic Chesnutt isn’t playing this year, but I am brushing up on the dusty twang in my iTunes library to get prepared for a sunny day today of picking and strumming.
This gem was on the End of Violence soundtrack (1997), and it just resurfaced on my speakers after a long absence. Knowing that Chesnutt is paraplegic following a car accident gives this song an extra layer of poignancy, and Michael Stipe remains my favorite male vocalist, absolutely, ever. His voice adds such a rich, sad bittersweetness to this song.
Greg Laswell is one of those San Diego/Los Angeles-types, with a few well-crafted orchestral albums under his belt (including 2008′s How The Day Sounds EP). For his latest endeavor, he’s turned to reinventing some of what I consider to be modern classics.
On the forthcoming Covers EP (Vanguard Records, October 6th) Laswell tackles Echo & The Bunnymen, Morphine, Mazzy Star, Kate Bush and one of my favorite songs from Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh. From her debut solo album Hips and Makers (1994), the original haunting incarnation (no pun really intended) featured the distinctive crack of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe on background vocals. When I sing it, I switch around from his part to hers. See what you think of Greg’s (KCRW liked it enough to make it their song of the day a few weeks ago).
I was stoked Saturday morning when I read about a program called Tangerine! that automatically analyzes the songs in your iTunes library for beats per minute (BPM) and then allows you to make playlists based on beats. I’ve been looking for something exactly like this that will give me the right beats for running different speeds. I’ve been addicted to lengthening the amount of time I run lately (thanks new shoes!) and always delight in finding the perfect song for the MPH I am going – my feet strike the ground with the drumbeat and compel me to stick with it.
My sheer unbounded joy turned to dejection when I saw that Tangerine is currently only for Macs. Boo for me. Does anyone know of websites or tools for creating running playlists based on the speed you are running? I have quite a few tunes that I personally have learned are the perfect speed for running (Pearl Jam’s “Undone” is my current fave), but would LOVE to cull my collection for other candidates. Lemme know what works for you?
Here are some tunes which may or may not work for running. They’re all worth a listen:
Charcoal Days and Sterling Nights Ike Reilly Assassination The new album from Ike Reilly, We Belong To The Staggering Evening (May 8, Rock Ridge Music), is very securely in my frontrunners for Best-Of 2007. I’ve been spinning it at high volumes all weekend long and this is one fantastic album: full of bluesy, boozy, humid, rock riffs and intelligent, biting, evocative, rough-and-tumble lyrics that make me want to take off with Ike through the desert on the run from the cops, with a knowing glance between us and the windows down.
This song starts like a old-time automatic piano in a dusty Western bar somewhere, then busts into a full and marvelous scorcher. Ike sings his heart out, with lines like, “It’s those lies you tell that make me wanna be your lover, the crime in your eyes makes me wanna run for cover, the storm in your thighs makes it all feel right . . . ahh those charcoal days and those sterling nights…” I had a ridiculously difficult time selecting which track to feature since they are all so different and excellent – a single track cannot do justice to the album. I literally went back and forth for over an hour here. Depending on the tune, you get the wide-open anthems of Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers, the ambitious pop harmonies of Oasis, and the bluesy back-porch swampy harmonica of a generation past. Preorder this album immediately.
Ooh Girl Red Button A delightful reader who turned me on the to the best Cotton Mather b-side I’ve heard (“Heaven’s Helping”) returns to my inbox with a fantastic power pop tune from Los Angeles-based Red Button, the project of Seth Swirsky (who has written songs for everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Al Green) and Mike Ruekberg (who scored the indie film Dummy with Adrien Brody). From the lush string opener that echoes Eleanor Rigby, on into the jangly harmonies, I love the unabashed goodness of this little gem. The album is called She’s About To Cross My Mind — it’s 11 songs in 33 minutes. You can sample their other tunes on their website, and how’s this for a ringing endorsement: “If The Red Button had beeen around in the ’60s when I was producing, I would have signed them to EMI.” – Norm “Hurricane” Smith, Beatles engineer (1962-1966) and record producer (Pink Floyd, The Zombies) for EMI. Delicious.
It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) Five-Eight feat. Michael Stipe This CD was released last month with barely a ripple, but it celebrates an amazing evening in Athens, Georgia musical culture. On September 12 of last year, local musicans gathered at the 40 Watt Club in Athens for a big party — and to record covers of a variety of R.E.M. tunes as a benefit.
Turns out four members performing that night didn’t need to rehearse any of the songs: R.E.M. was in town for their induction into Georgia’s Music Hall of Fame, and joined in on several tunes. This version is rough and fast, almost punk — a joyous ending to a fantastic evening. Net proceeds from Finest Worksongs benefits Community Connection of Northeast Georgia and Family Connection/Communities in Schools, so it’s a great album for a good cause.
The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff cover) Pat MacDonald Speaking of good causes, the Bridging The Distance compilation was released last week on Arena Rock Recording Co. as a benefit for p:ear which works with transitional youth in Portland, Oregon. Very interesting song choices to cover – ranging from Fleetwood Mac and Yes songs to Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, and even Sam Cooke – from a variety of bands like The Decemberists, Chris Walla (of DCFC), The Minus 5, The Dandy Warhols, and this guy who may or may not be the same Pat MacDonald whose future is so bright he’s gotta wear shades. A pulsating, fuzzy, supersonic cover of the ’70s reggae Jimmy Cliff classic.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy(yep. for real) Ian Hunter I’ve been listening to this cheesy ’70s rock winner all weekend because I see that Ian Hunter has a new album coming out in a few weeks. Former Mott the Hoople frontman struck guilty gold in my book with this song, from the opening cockney “Allo” and the Wayne’s World-worthy guitar solo in the middle (also unfortunately covered by Great White in the ’80s). Nothing on the new album can touch the playful dance-around-and-shake-it goodness of this. Ian Hunter is still rocking the perm and the aviator sunglasses. I guess he figures to stick with what worked with the ladies. Shrunken Heads is out May 15 on Yep Roc.
I have been finding a lotofinterestingreading on the always-packed-with-goodness Largehearted Boy blog/music news conglomerate. I recommend you browse it yourself, but the link that I thought was the most amusing recently was this description of a new game, iPod War. It’s like the old card game you played when you were seven because it was the only game you could understand (“War! My eight beats your two!”), but with iPods set to shuffle. Sounds lame a little, yes, but the way she explains it made me laugh.
You and a friend each set your iPod on shuffle, then listen to and compare what pops up. Whoever has ‘The Better Song’ gets one point. The author illustrates several vagaries to consider in judging:
-Older doesn’t always mean better. (“Yes, music was exceptionally rad from 1964-1982. Doesn’t mean a song from 1995 can’t be better.”) -Don’t demand a win on principle. (You say: “But the Rolling Stones kick Prince’s ass!”) Each song should be evaluated on its own merit. (I say: “While The Stones are an important part of music history, there are lots of Stones songs that are mediocre/sucky and some Prince songs that fucking rule.”). -Counting Crows never wins. -If neither person will concede the win, “Vietnam” is declared (both sides claim a win, but nobody really won).
Even though, clearly, sometimes the Counting Crows DO win, I applaud her creativity. A simple little game for the music nerds out there, to entertain yourself for a trip on the tube or a really boring homeroom class.
Onto my random musical selection for this week, for your enjoyment.
Happiness Michael Stipe & Rain Phoenix I’ve been on a bit of an R.E.M. kick lately after making a mix up for a friend who was severely lacking in the Athens, Georgia college band department. Amidst my sifting, I rediscovered this poppy little song from the soundtrack of the 1998 film of the same name by Welcome to the Dollhouse director Todd Solondz. The song is written by Eytan Mirsky, and it plays over the ending credits. Who knew Rain Phoenix could sing? Those multi-talented Phoenixes.
Bounce That Girl Talk This looks horrifying, but I cannot defy the inexorable and unexpected party power of this fantastic song. If you are able to listen to this guilty pleasure without moving some piece of yourself (be it a tapped toe, a bouncing chin, a shakin’ rear end) then I will personally salute you in disbelief. The inexplicably awful-named Girl Talk (aka Greg Gillis) has made “the ADD-afflicted’s album of the year” with Night Ripper, which throws together literally hundreds of recognizable hooks from popular songs of the past 40 years in an extremely pleasurable blend. It has been burninguptheblogs (especially after Pitchfork gave it an 8.4). I hear everything from the Breeders to Elastica to Van Halen, Smashing Pumpkins, Temptations — come on. It looks like a really bad idea, but I swear it’s not. Download it immediately.
Mine Ain’t Yours Lions In The Street Magnet Magazine said of these guys, “What the Stones were, what the Dandy Warhols should’ve been” — and they are spot-on. Lions In The Street (who borrow their name from a Doors lyric) have released a sloppy & bluesy free EP on their website, I recommend snagging these five songs and adding them to your collection. They’ re embarking on their first US tour this summer/fall – in the past they’ve opened for Kings of Leon, JET, Ambulance LTD, and The Zutons. Swaggering & rollicking stuff.
Tell Me Rooney This new one from L.A.-based retro-rock outfit Rooney was posted on their website last week as a little sample of their sophomore album, due out Fall 2006. We’ve got some serious ’70s arena rock goin’ on here – sounds like the kid from The Redwalls fronting Queen. Anthemic and fun, and I do like it, but I’m still trying to assimilate the fact that they’re touring with Kelly Clarkson this summer. What?
Atlantic City/Murray Pete Yorn This one is a nod to the fact that mere hours from now I will be heading to see Mr. Yorn himself — first to the in-store at the Twist ‘N’ Shout, then off to the sold-out show at the Walnut Room.I am uber looking forward to it, it will be the first time I’ve seen him live. This track is a standout from his excellent double-disc Live From New Jersey (2004), blending together some Springsteen with a Yorn original. The subject matter fits, the transition is seamless. If you don’t have any other Yorn stuff and want a good introduction, I recommend the live CD, and remember his new disc Nightcrawler comes out August 29.
Good morning, champs. Did everyone (in countries where they celebrate Memorial Day, i.e. the U-S-of-A) have a nice long weekend? Sunburns, BBQ-overdose, and hangovers? Check. Plus, Brad and Angelina had their new little girl (name translated means “New Messiah” – sign of the endtimes?) so, you know, I can breathe easier now. And maybe now I can schedule that trip to Namibia without needing written permission from them. Gotta love when rich Western celebrities are allowed to buy off the immigration officials in poor developing nations. It’s just so comforting.
Here are five songs that I rocked repeatedly on my recent California trip. By the way, I managed to squeeze in one more In’N'Out meal, bringing the total to two of the world’s best burgers in 3 days. Can you hear my arteries screaming?
Pink Steam Sonic Youth Nobody sounds exactly like Sonic Youth. They have a unique free-form sound all unto themselves that remains consistent (but fresh) over 25 years and more than a dozen releases. I am really, really liking this song (off their new album Rather Ripped, due June 13) for reasons I can’t completely articulate. Something about the volatile combination between the brooding heavy undertones and the harmonic accent notes, the fact that it is mostly instrumental, and the driving drumbeat. It is the perfect accompaniment to driving along a dark and winding California highway, looking at the crescent moon.
Move By Yourself Donavon Frankenreiter This is an enjoyable summer tune, a sonic hybrid reminiscent of the Isley Brothers and Jack Johnson getting down together. The opening minute is pretty smokin’ and the new album is more of a funk-groove manifesto than the laid-back surf sounds of his first disc. From Frankenreiter‘s upcoming sophomore release Move By Yourself (out June 6 on Lost Highway Records).
Broader a New Sound Nobody & Mystic Chords of Memory My eye was first drawn to this single because of Devendra Banhart’s involvement with it (he covers one of their songs called The Seed/La Semilla as a b-side here). But in the process I was introduced to a new artist. Nobody & Mystic Chords of Memory is a L.A.-based trio who has come out with a light and lively combination of toe-tapping trip-hop and summery folk music here, with slightly off-kilter Shins-eqsue vocals. Quirky and radio-friendly.
Where is My Boy? Faultline (featuring Chris Martin) c featured this song over at her blog, Scatter O’Light last week and I am loving it, the layered and fuzzy-dark feel. I have decided that for some reason, I apparently like Martin much better on guest vocals than as part of Coldplay. This is like the third guestvocal I’ve featured by him. He has such an emotive wail. From Faultline’s 2004 disc Your Love Means Everything.
L’Hotel Michael Stipe If I had to pick my three top vocalists EVER, Michael Stipe would be in that top triumvirate. He is unparalleled in sexy velvety smoothness, I could listen to him sing-talk all day (“Belong” is one of my favorite R.E.M. tunes for that reason). And then when he breaks into that naked and vulnerable falsetto, nothing compares. This is a mysterious Serge Gainsbourg tale, from the album of covers Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, featuring everyone from Stipe to Cat Power to Marianne Faithfull to Jarvis Cocker and more. I love it. Check out that uber-smarmy album cover. If he doesn’t give you the Old-Man-Heeby-Jeebies, I don’t know what will.
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
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