Tag Archives: alternative

#MondayMixtape – Songs to Get You Out-of-Doors

take on the worldThis past weekend was glorious. Saturday was particularly so. A few of us headed up to Stage Fort Park in Gloucester for a midday barbecue and the conditions were perfect. Not too warm,  not too cold, with blue skies all around and nary a cloud in the sky.

After a nice leisurely lunch, we headed down to the beach and took a walk along the rocky shoreline. It was incredibly therapeutic to see everything in such vibrant, brilliant color and so full of life after all those months of cold. The leaves on the trees looked fuller and greener, the water in the bay looked even fresher and even bluer, and the whitewashed seaside chapels further off in the distance seemed to give off a warm, radiant glow. And to think all this lay just one hour from Boston. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Excellent.

It got me thinking about songs that sing lovingly of the great outdoors. Songs whose verses could compel even the laziest of Johns to get outside and smell the roses. Songs that speak fondly of good times had out in nature and of the promise of more good times ahead.

These are a few such songs, summarized in five lines or less (because hey, this list isn’t about you sinking in more to your seat– it’s about getting you outside to enjoy everything the great outdoors has to offer!).

1. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High

Ask anyone– if you’re making a list of songs made for exploring and extolling the wonders of the natural world, this song is going to be on it. It’s one of John Denver’s greatest hits, and for good reason: feel that leisurely, zen-like tempo, dig that lightly twangy, tangy flatpicking– that gentle, buttery voice!– it’s no wonder this song recently became one of Colorado’s official state songs. And with its underlying message of man’s responsibility to be good, mindful stewards of the earth’s natural treasures, it’s not just an ode to the Rockies– it’s a song of love and appreciate of the great outdoors everywhere.

2. James Taylor – Copperline

From a song that looks with immense fondness and love at all natural palaces and sanctuaries to song that focuses on a fondness and love of one place in particular: the strange, wonderful parkland just a short distance from the narrator’s boyhood home. It was the sort of place that would have always captured his imagination even if he hadn’t spied his father dancing in a drunken display of bliss and inhibition or got the  “first kiss I ever took” there. But ah, so it was, and so it is, and so it shall ever be. “Day breaks and the boy wakes up and the / Dog barks and the bird sings / And the sap rises– and the angel sighs..” Such powerful, lasting memories can be made out there, even just a few miles from home.

3. Jakob Dylan – Something Good This Way Comes

As it happens, four of the five songs selected this week are written in the key of E. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, on the guitar, an open E chord is one of the lucky few that uses all six strings. It gives the chord a particularly fresh and open tone, a quality that each song really embodies. And this one, from the Wallflowers frontman, is no different. A talented, prolific songwriter in his own right, the younger Dylan also knows how to take it easy and play a simple, breezy tune, and this is a great example of that. A good tune to accompany you on any adventure  you so choose.

4. Nickel Creek – Ode to a Butterfly

Continuing on our secondary theme of Songs in the Key of E, here’s one to really get you up and at’em. The title lends itself beautifully to the sort of imagery that it conjures up: a butterfly flitting and floating about a wide open field with corn and buckwheat swaying in the breeze. But it’s just as suitable for getting you up the side of a mountain, exploring the hidden spaces of a forest, or simply sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows. It’s a reminder that even the smallest things are full of some of the coolest, most intricate and wondrous stuff in the world.

5. Special Consensus – Carolina in the Pines

Our little tour of song and nature now complete, we return east to the land of green Appalachian hills (and whaddayaknow– there’s a key change too!). It’s the perfect mix of sweeping instrumental breakdowns and simple but deeply affectionate lines about the comfort that comes from just being out there among the mountains, the forests, and all of nature’s splendor. “There’s no guesswork in the clockwork / On the world’s part or mine / There are nights I only feel right / With Carolina in the pines.” With all the uncertainty in life, it’s nice to know that whatever happens, we can always find time to get back to basics, with earth, wind, and sky.

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#ThrowbackThursday – My First Concert: Keller Williams @ The 9:30 Club in DC

horns and hails y'all

I’m what you’d call a late bloomer. Started walking later than most kids, didn’t ride my first two-wheel bike until I was near on 7, and I didn’t realize the buzz cut hairstyle wasn’t cool until well into eighth grade. On the flipside, I definitely started eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches earlier than most.

That said, it’s not too surprising that the first concert I ever saw was Keller Williams at the 9:30 Club in DC during the fall of my junior year of high school. While I do recollect some early childhood memories of seeing some iteration of Sesame Street Live as well as a small show featuring a local Raffi-esque songwriter known as Billy B., my honest to goodness first taste of real rock and/or roll lifestyle was supplied by this south Virginian one-man wonder of multi-instrumentalism.

I honestly don’t know why it took me so gosh darn long to see a show (though perhaps it comes from the same place that makes me think the phrase “gosh darn” is an appropriate, not-in-the-least-bit-silly exclamation to use in daily speech). I’d been musically inclined since I was old enough to recognize I was humming along with my cereal-chomping jowls, and I’d spent much of my formative time in middle and high school perusing the aisles of the local Tower Records and Borders Booksellers establishments (RIP, my dearly departed friends), sampling the fineries therein. I guess it just comes down to plain ol’ dumb luck. Or just the lack of understanding of just how much good, affordable live entertainment lay just a dozen Metro stops away.

If only I’d just looked with some interest and intent at the concert listings section of the Style section of the Post. I may have saved myself the unenviable fate of being a 16 year-old neophyte.

But alas, such was the state of things. And thus, one balmy evening in mid November on the invitation of my friend M., I went down to U Street with my good friend Andrew to see a show. M. was cool as a cucumber. We generally moved in different circles at school, but we were both in poetry club together and had a mutual respect and admiration for the other’s writing chops. All the same I was honored (read: giddy) when she invited us to come with her and her friends to the concert.

She listened to a lot of music that I had some understanding of (e.g. Deathcab For Cutie, Less Than Jake, The Smiths, Bright Eyes), but mostly stuff of which I knew nothing about. No doubt I was in for an adventure. That I liked the girl quite a bit certainly didn’t hurt either.

Nothing ever did materialize between said girl and said boy, but on the plus side the show was fantastic. We stood seven or eight people back from the stage on the ground floor of the simple, two-floor rock club. In the center of the stage was a large oriental rug and strewn around it in what looked like a meticulously coordinated mess of cables and wires was a host of various instruments, machines, switchboards and levers. The lights dimmed and the crowd let out their first of many cheers and chants of gratitude. The lights came up again as he walked in, revealing a slight, plainly dressed, impish looking man with a rosy, cherubim face that positively beamed as he crossed to center stage.

And this simple mortal– with his anyman orange crew neck t-shirt, baggy blue jeans, plethora of stringed instruments, and electric, space-age accoutrements– dazzled and delighted for 90 whole minutes. It was a veritable jungle gym of sonic joy, his angelic face eternally alight and his long, brown locks bobbing back and forth as sang in his deep, rich baritone while he switched between guitar licks, intricate slap-bass patterns, synth loops, and the expert use of percussive beatbox tricks– often all at the same time.

And the crowd loved every moment of it. A sea of faceless silhouettes on two levels swaying, shaking, and grooving in time. Sure the people on the balcony level had more space to move around, but we were having more fun among the hip shaking, body bouncing hordes below.

My friends and I certainly were having a heck of a time dancing and bopping about, with M. right up there with the best of them. It was during the show that it started to sink in that she probably wasn’t as interested in me as I was in her, and that tempered things a bit. But honestly, for the most part my attention was almost wholly set upon the man on stage and the carefree, leave-it-all-on-the-dance-floor spell he’d put us all under.

Suffice it to say my first concert experience was incredible, and from it came other similarly excellent adventures. There’ve definitely been a few duds in the bunch, and I’ve gotten a sense for what makes a good concert and a not-so-good concert (more on that later, no doubt), but one thing’s for certain: it’s a heckuva way to spend an evening, especially when it’s a good show.

A good show– a great show– treats you to something different. Even if you know a band’s entire repertoire from garage EPs to final platinum sixth or seventh albums and every B-side in between, going to the show gives you the chance to be an active part of the music. You’re a part of the tracks now. You’re living every line of the story, every wail and whine of guitar, every pounding fill of snare and bass drum. It gives you new perspective, renewed appreciation, and fills you with a heightened sense of gratitude for the guys and gals up there doing their thing.

I could go on (and likely I will in the near future), but for now, let me know. What was your first concert? What was your favorite concert-going experience? Any less-than-thrilling (even awful) experiences? Let me know.

And get out there and see a show!

Monday Mixtape: 5 from 2005

remembering old songs is like remembering old loves

Before we get started, on Friday I was informed that a previous Monday Mixtape post of mine was selected by Blog Better Boston’s monthly themed {hub}LINKS roundup. This month the topic was Winter in Boston, and this post was selected.  Here’s the list of the other Boston Bloggers whose work was selected. Be sure to show them some love!

  • Styled By Jess shows us a recipe to make the most delicious, gooey S’Mores hot chocolate!
  • Country Design Home shares a DIY tutorial on painting snowflakes on vintage blocks.
  • Start planning your next vacation to get rid of those winter blues! Start here with Take Time Away‘s top travel apps.
  • Union Jack Creative looks at a craft cocktail book, and a hand-lettered cocktail recipe.
  • Trends and Tolstoy shares a few tips to keep you stylish during the frigid New England winter.

Now on to your regularly scheduled programming.

2005 was a damn good year for music and a damn gooder year for music discovery. College’ll do that for you, particularly if you’re the type of person who associates with the college radio scene.

The question is whether the music so cherished during one particular moment in life will stand the test of time and endure through the ages. Music tastes evolve and mature (or so I’d like to believe), and the right songs have the ability to evolve and mature with us, while others fade into nostalgia and insignificance.

Let’s see how these former heavy rotation contenders have held up in the intervening years.

1. Hot Hot Heat – Goodnight Goodnight

Then: Energetic, grippy, undeniably catchy tune. The story of the bitter, dejected lover that supplies the fuel to this punchy  2-minute parcel conveys a level of angst I never had the pleasure of experiencing personally. But what does it matter– this thing rocks. Lock and load it, wind it up and let it go.

Now: The beats goes on and the words resonate a little more too, but it does seem to fall short of being a song for the ages. But again, who cares? This song was never meant to be anything more a charged farewell to bad love, written and rendered in driving, anthemic style. Fire it off at will and you’ll still feel that inescapable charge.

2. The Killers – Change Your Mind

Then: An oft overlooked track from the debut album of a band that had a bang-up 2005. Compared to other much loved tracks on the album (Mr. Brightside and Somebody Told Me among them), this one feels more subdued and more sincere even as it totes much of the same pomp and flourish of the rest of the album. It was the one track on the album that seemed to fit any moment of any day.

Now: Without a doubt it’s still a great track and one that, upon revisiting, feels immediately fresh and new. I’m less certain of the subtleties I once thought I saw in it though, and there’s a definite whimsy bordering on silliness to the lyrics that I hadn’t noticed before (“the sun is gone / before it shines”).

Sun or no sun, at the end of the day it’s still a song that carries with it the endearing theme of second chances and putting it all on the line for the ones we love: “If the answer is no, can I change your mind?”  How about it?

3. The Strokes – Is This It

Then: The spark that set on a musical obsession that included bands like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs, and a whole host of other “The” named bands. An understated way to open an album that really rocked and could easily be listened to on repeat without losing its momentum or shine.

Now: It’s still a killer track, and I still love this band even as I refuse to accept that this band ever moved on to bigger, better, more experimental sonic waters. This band will always be stuck in the early aughts to me. I’m not ready to let go yet.

4. Regina Spektor – Raindrops

Then: Simple, lovely, and poetic. Discovering her style of song craft was akin to finding an oasis in a sea of rowdy, rambunctious, and otherwise noisy fodder. She wasn’t above experimenting with strange chord progressions, dark subject matter, or avant garde structures either, which always kept it interesting. This little b-side that could  made it on to no fewer than 10 mixes made for friends that year.

Now: Simple, lovely, and poetic. Somethings never change and that’s all right with me.

5. Guster – Diane

Then: This one always struck me as the perfect soundtrack for the first kiss scene in a romantic comedy. They’d start it off at a fair volume immediately as their lips meet and then back it off slightly, continuing in the background as the two newly stricken lovers trade happy, knowing looks, and sweet, blissful words of good night. The music then swells to a fever pitch to match the euphoria of the male lead as he walks back to his apartment. The song embodied the feeling of deepening jubilant satisfaction and the promise of good things to come.

Now: Much like the tune before it, this one holds up well. It’s lovely and endearing and perfectly wonderful, even as I’ve realized that the lyrics don’t match up as nicely with the scenario I originally had in my head.

“We lie together and we say it’s love / Who were you just thinking of Diane?”

And there it is: the pesky, persistent sound of relationship insecurity. Are they two people who think they’re in love? Is he all alone in these feelings? What could she possibly be thinking about?

Still, it doesn’t really change the tone of the song completely. It just gives it additional depth and complexity. Just like a song, properly aged and vetted, should.

photo by NeverendingStomp