Tag Archives: country

#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.

New Music Tuesday: Us – No Matter Where You Are

Us_NoMatterWhereYouAre_800

At first brush the album comes off so sugary sweet that even the most ravenous of the sweet-toothed pop enthusiasts might find themselves running to the nearest grungy, rough salt lick. You can’t blame them: these two young musicians, turned internet sensations, turned doting husband-wife alt-country pop pairing sure do love each other a whole heck of a lot. On further inspection, however, deeper dimension begins to appear, and a more complex confection takes shape.

Us, comprised of Californian musicians Michael Alvarado and Carissa Rae, first gained attention as prolific internet entertainers, posting well-received covers in long form on YouTube (Scream & Shout, Pop). More recently they’ve taken to the micro-video social media site Vine posting imaginative #6secondcovers including one of Royals by Lorde, a Michael Jackson Tribute, and this one by Earth, Wind, and Fire:

Clearly talented folk. And so gosh darn cute. And, oh-by-the-way-did-i-mention, recently betrothed.

So it’s no surprise that this, their second indie release should be a joyful ode to young love. It’s what The Civil Wars might sound like if they subscribed to a Keep-On-The-Sunny-Side-Of-Life mantra. The first 6 minutes of music alone signal the sort of proud, triumphant alt-country sound to drown out any Lady Antebellum, Sugarland, or like-minded group out there. All done with warm, airy harmonies and exultant, anthemic instrumentation. (The track “Falling In Love” alone is fit for any cheesy fondue-filled scene of a candle-lit dinner by the Seine, complete with cornball accordion accompaniment.)

Hyperbolic comparisons aside, given all the joyful blissful trappings and trinkets of romance and companionship found in the first few tracks, it’s easy to overlook the presence of other, less gleamingly happy tales, but they exist. They may seem like just bumps on the road of this couple’s otherwise exuberant love and satisfaction in each other, but the presence of these more somber pauses are no less well-crafted and executed.

If anything, these moments, like that of the biting “Final Bow” or the plaintive “Come Back,” are an even stronger representation of the duo’s skill in storytelling than are the rest of the lot. In a sea of otherwise gleeful optimism, these stories could just as easily come off as forced or dishonest, but they’re not. On “Heartbreak,” the harmonies that had formerly assumed a bright and airy quality now sound delicate, fragile, and breathless, perfectly in step with the storyline of love labors now lost.

There seems to be a resurgence of sorts in the field of talented male-female duos, a number of which are comprised of husband-wife pairings (Shovels & Rope and Grace & Tony among others). Though on the surface Us may appear to lack the emotional depth of some of their contemporaries, there’s no mistake that their peachy keen exterior hides some less-than squeaky clean damage and hesitation underneath that is definitely worth a listen.

Us – No Matter Where You Are
Independent, 2013
Rating: B
Listen Now: “No Matter Where You Are,” “Final Bow,” ” ‘Til the Morning Comes”