Tag Archives: good music

5 Songs for Shoveling Out The Driveway

#Snowdaze...
#Snowdaze… (photo by hcmz)

Remember snow days when you were a kid? The anticipation of a day without school, the awe and wonder of a world covered in fresh powder, and the possibility of catching some awesome air as you flew down those pristinely blanketed white hills on your favorite sled of choice. Those were good times, y’all. Good times.

These days when considering the implications of an impending winter storm, I immediately start thinking about the amount of time I’ll need to spend shoveling off the driveway and walkways in front of our apartment. Sledding– and fun, moreover– doesn’t usually figure into the equation. Just the necessity of the task at hand and the summoning up of the will to #gitterdone.

It’s not all bad, of course. It’s good exercise and it gives me a reason to get out of the house on a day when I’d otherwise be stuck inside all day. And I hate being stuck inside all day. So really it suits me just fine.

And there’s some fun to be had in it. Snow storms have a wonderful way of getting entire neighborhoods outside and talking with one another, creating space for conversation and camaraderie. And sometimes, when it’s 7:00am on a Sunday morning, you’ve got a 1/2 inch of snow and ice on the driveway, you’ve got work in an hour’s time, and the rest of the world’s still fast asleep, the best thing to do is to plug in the headphones, crank up the jams, and get to work.

I recently read an article about the 16 personality types of snow shovelers, and definitely felt a kinship with a number of them (I think I tend more towards the incrementalist mindset, with a hint of perfectionist / snow angel mixed in).

Regardless of what kind of snow shoveler you are, the tunes below are perfect for mixing the raw, unadulterated enthusiasm of childhood excitement with the slightly more refined– if not slightly more weathered– perspective of responsible adulthood. Like your preferred post-shoveling beverage of choice, they’re meant to be enjoyed responsibly.

1. Good Charlotte – Anthem

I remember purchasing this record at Tower Records during sophomore year of high school and thinking this was the best $9.00 I ever spent. Though that sentiment may not have stood the test of time, this song still has the right amount of energy to get you into the mindset of getting stuff done. Particularly the sort of prolonged heavy lifting required for snow removal. Maybe… maybe it was meant as an anthem for the perennial underdogs of the world, but somehow it’s still the sort of jam that every human person can enjoy (imagine that…). By the time Joel Madden gets to the first chorus, you’ll find yourself plowing through snow with the sort of intensity usually reserved for someone working out their long repressed anger and resentment at the memories a schoolyard bully– even if you’ve never had one. “Y’all got to feel me, sing if you’re with me.” Oh we’re with you, Mr. Madden, we’re all with you.

2. Weezer – My Name is Jonas

Let’s keep the angsty, distortion-rich energy flowing, shall we? High school was a fun time for music discovery, though an inordinate amount of it was consumed by my love for this band. Their Flying W Weezer Rock Music baseball tee was definitely one of my favorite shirts (and incidentally also one of my other “best $9.00 I ever spent”), and this album also seemed to be on near constant rotation for a good two and a half years. Does it matter what the lyrics mean? No. Especially not when you’re faced with a white matted landscape of 3-foot snowdrifts that need clearing before you can so much as even dream of reliving your days on the sledding hills as the fastest thing on a hard plastic toboggan.

3. Citizen Cope – Son’s Gonna Rise

A song for when you’ve hit your stride. Your stance is good, you’re remembering to breathe well, and the snow slinging’s coming as natural as a bird flies. Yeah, so maybe that never actually happens, but the song nonetheless has the power to carry you through. Let Mr. Greenwood’s mantra be your guide:

Well a son’s gonna rise in a mile
In a mile you’ll be feeling fine
In a mile you will see, after me,
You’ll be out of the dark, yeah
You’ll get your shot.

Whether it’s a shot of espresso, cocoa, or the simple satisfaction of a job well done, you’ll get it. Just keep at it.

4. Frank Sinatra – Come Fly With Me

At first I scoffed when my friend Glenn told me that Old Blue Eyes was on his personal winter shoveling mix. But then I thought about it again, and it made total sense. It’s not necessarily going to get you hyped up or keep you in the groove. That’s not the point. It’s fun, plain and simple, the way a snow day is supposed to feel. This little ditty goes a step further by transporting you to the fanciful, wonderful– and warm– far flung destinations of the world on the wings of his don’t-skimp-on-the-sugar-y sweet croon. And here we find another reason to listen: for those times when you want to get away, but can’t.

5. Taylor Swift – 1989 (album)

All of it? Yes, all of it. All of it in its super rich 80s synth pop wonderment. That Sunday morning solo snow slinging campaign I mentioned? I’m not ashamed to say that this album got me all the way through it. It just made so much sense. From the devilishly pointed wordplay of “Blank Space,” to the pulsing backbeat of “Bad Blood,” right through the breathless coda of final two tracks. “Think I’m finally clean,” she sang as I scraped up the last of the gray icy sludge from the asphalt, and somehow I knew she was right.. at least until the next storm came around.

What’re your top five tunes (or albums) for powering through your own obligatory bouts of seasonal snow slinging? I’d love to hear’em.

#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.

#NewMusicTuesday (on a Wednesday) – Summer 2014 New Music Preview

Clockwise from Top Left: Neil Young, Felice Bros, Allen Stone, Common, and The First Aid Kit
Clockwise from Top Left: Neil Young, The Felice Brothers, Allen Stone, Common, and The First Aid Kit

(photo credits clockwise from top left: theguardian.com, americansongwriter.com, hipstervrealworld.wordpress.com, houstonpress.com, vogue.com)

Summer’s upon us, and though the memorable, sure-to-delight summer blockbusters of old have been on their way out for quite a while, summer music releases never fail to delight. These may not be on any big, honkin’ billboard list, but these are a few of the titles I’m most looking forward to hearing this season.

1. Neil Young – A Letter Home (Released 5/27)

I’ve been listening to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash and this guy lately, and it’s fantastic stuff to use up an afternoon with. Each member of this iconic foursome found success in their respective solo careers, and Mr. Young was no different. His last few albums, however, left much to be desired. Call me a stubborn traditionalist, but I preferred his songs more when the political jabs and searing social commentary was folded in like good metaphors ought to be, not just piled on like some over-sugared meringue.

That said, lately Young has been getting back to basics, though not necessarily of the original lyrical sort. Instead he’s turned his attention to the basics of sound production and the impact it has, good or bad, on our listening experience. One way he’s done this is by becoming something of a sonic evangelist, making sure everyone can hear music properly. That is, high quality (192 kHz). “The way it was meant to be heard” (As opposed to the compressed versions of the tracks heard on CDs or MP3s– less than 40 kHz– that sound as good as if you were, as Neil puts it “underwater”). The result is Pono, a new music service that gives listeners the ability to purchase and play high quality sound versions of their favorite songs.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s his new album, A Letter Home, which features a decidedly more low-fi– but not low quality– sound. The album features 12 covers of popular folk, country, and rock tunes from the last 70 years, all performed by Young himself and recorded using a 1947 Voice-O-Graph Recording Booth. Once a staple of carnivals and county fairs nationwide, Young recorded the album on one of the few remaining models, owned by fellow sound enthusiast and music nostalgist in the best way Jack White and his Third Man Records label in Tennessee.

It’s just Young, his guitar, sometimes a harmonica, and the sparse, warbly sounds of an old vinyl record machine making beautiful music. Sounds good to me.

2. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold (6/10)

The Swedish folk duo that brought you the 2012 sleeper hit “Emmylou” is back with another round of spooky, mysterious late-60s-era psychedelia folkie stuff. Expect more beautifully haunting vocal harmonies, sweeping, arpeggiated strings, and stories of estranged lovers getting their just rewards. If you’re still unsure of what to expect, think She and Him minus the Him part or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros minus Edward and the other boys of that posse. Or just take a peak at the advert for their new disc / homage to 70s B-movie wonderment.

3. The Felice Brothers – Favorite Waitress (6/17)

Now take the male half of the bands previously mentioned, add to the mix the raucous bluegrassy, folksy stylings of The Lumineers or the roots-rock vibe of Kingsley Flood, and you’ll have these guys, The Felice Brothers. They are to bluegrass and roots what deviled eggs and turkey bacon are to brunch: slightly updated standards, but still satisfying. These guys are also a ton of fun live. They opened for Josh Ritter during his spring tour last year and got the crowd plenty ready for a long evening of good tunes and good times. Go see them when they come by this summer.

4. Common – Nobody Smiling (TBD)

I’d lost track of this guy for a time, so I was excited to learn that there’re plans on the table for a new full length release sometime this year. A Chicago-based MC, this album is inspired by and dedicated to the young people of the hometown he loves so much. It reflects its troubles while also celebrating its successes. In the artist’s own words it’s meant to be a “wake-up call” for those who haven’t been part of the positive solution. It has been some time since anything else was mentioned about this project, though he has been awful busy supporting his nonprofit’s community events and initiatives around town. Can’t be mad at an MC with a track record of doing good in his community. No doubt it’ll be worth the wait.

5. Allen Stone – Title TBD (TBD)

Talk about much anticipated releases. Back in November of 2013, this golden-voiced soul singer announced plans to drop his next record sometime this year and soon thereafter released the first single from that album “Million.” Since then, however, it’s been relatively quiet. Like Common he’s also been rather busy with a world tour, spreading the love and good vibes through his music, his Instagram account, and his ridiculously wide grin, so it’s understandable that he may not have had the time to let the people know when to expect his next release. Still, with pipes like that, it’s surprising that he wouldn’t have had things ready to go by now. He’s got the sort of voice that’s made for summer beach mixes.

For now, we’ll just have to wait like good boys and girls and let treats like these hold us over.

#FridayFinds: Crowdsourcing 2.0, Female Folk-Rockers, and West Coast Chamber Pop

Up and Coming Folk-Rock Coolgal Sarah Dooley
photo courtesy of sarahdooley.com

It’s been a good week. Birds are singing in the trees, Sunsets are getting more golden by the day, and temperatures have been agreeably, consistently springy in nature. Perfect for excellent adventures in the outdoors, long, rambling walks around parks, and spur-of-the-moment exploration and discovery. Here are the three things I found that added just the right extra dose of summer sun into the overall ambience of the week.

1. It’s the Jelly that Holds the Internet Together

And that jelly is crowdsourcing. Some questions you can Google and some questions you can ask your friends and mere acquaintances on Facebook. No doubt you’ve seen an awful lot of silly questions pop up over time: what shirt to wear, what movie to go see, or perhaps what albums make for an excellent road trip (what silly person does does that?). That’s all well and good, but what if you want to ask your question your way and get some quick, mostly-accurate answers?

Enter Jelly, a new crowdsourcing app launched by cofounder of Twitter Biz Stone. It allows you to ask questions and gain answers and consensus from other users on the internet using your connections on various social media platforms. Simply open the app, ask a question, and wait for the responses to pour in. You’re encouraged, of course, to answer questions as well as ask them, and it’s neat to see the range of questions people are asking. It’s a cool concept and a fun way to learn about things you didn’t even know you had questions about.

So far I’ve used it to get some ideas on where to see free shows in Boston and how to infuse more female folk rock into my playlists. Which brings me to…

2. Artist to Watch: Sarah Dooley

Another point for the internet and the wondrous ways it introduces us to cool new things. She’s midwest born and Columbia University educated, but the sonic product is otherworldly. It’s a sound that’s Regina Spektor vocals and instrumentation over Leonard Cohenesque / Tom Waitsian storytelling. They’re lovely, whimsical melodies and stories that at once disarm you and then hit you in the gut with a two-punch count of driving drums and sarcastic wit– and that’s just in the first 30 seconds of the first and title track of her debut Stupid Things that was released earlier this spring. The whole album moves that way like some beautiful, undiscovered broadway show, so it’s no surprise she studied theatre and playwriting at school. Achingly honest story lines brought to life. That’s the gift she brings.

Speaking of magnificent story telling meant for the stage…

3. Have you heard of… Ages and Ages?

Last weekend I saw Lake Street Dive at the Royale in downtown Boston. Naturally they did not disappoint, playing a fantastic hour-and-a-half-long set of selections from their two current full length records and one or two additional even newer tunes (both of which will be available in participating stores on a limited edition 7″ record during next weekend’s Record Store Day festivities). But the tip of the hat for me goes to the opening band, Ages and Ages, a six-piece folk-rock outfit from good old Portland, Oregon. Tremendously talented and endlessly entertaining. Trying to guess just which piece of equipment Ms. Sarah Riddle was going to choose was entertaining enough, but that’s only the beginning. They back it up with fantastic vocals and story lines on top of enthusiastic and exultant chamber rock. By now it’s obvious that I’m a sucker for good stories and well-placed harmonies and these guys deliver both and more. Check’em out ASAP.

What are you guys listening to these days? What’s on your recent playlists?

Hope all’s well with you guys. Have a great weekend.

 

#Friday Finds: New Stuff From Nickel Creek, Big Stuff from Small Speakers, etc

Nickel Creek
photo courtesy Nonesuch Records

A little something to wrap up the week. It’s been a wild one to say the least, and I’m looking forward to the leisure and low key lounging that the weekend brings. As tough as this week was at times, here are three little musical moments that kept things moving along the right track.

1. New Album from Old Favorite = Bliss

This week Nickel Creek released A Dotted Linetheir first album in almost 10 years, and it’s fantastic. Surely they’ve all grown artistically and personally since their hiatus in 2005, and no doubt they’ve kept themselves busy in the intervening time in which each of the three bandmates taking on various solo and side projects that reflect of varying colors of folk, rockalternative, and even classical soundscapes. But a large part of what makes this album so refreshing is how, with perhaps the exception of the tune “Hayloft,” the album eschews those influences in favor of a more simple, crisp, and nonetheless rollicking bluegrass flavor. A Dotted Line is a lovely little ride and one that I plan to take over and over for a good long while.

2. Big Sound from a Little Speaker

You know that wonderful feeling you get when you find $20 in your pocket you didn’t know you had? Well multiply that 10 fold and instead of cash make it a Verizon Wireless giftcard. Okay so it’s not as gratifying as, say, winning the lottery, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless. Maybe you’re still not impressed, but it’s a lesser-known fact that Verizon has a decent assortment of fun audio accessories for the devices it offers, and one of those is the Logitech UE Mini Boom portable bluetooth speaker. When they say “mini,” take them at their word, and when they say “boom”– ditto. This thing packs a punch for its preciously diminutive size. It’s no longer or wider than your smartphone and no taller than a beanbag frog, but this thing rocks. I’m looking forward to getting some good mileage out of this thing this summer. And for the price, I might just go back and get a second one. Could be crazy.

3. Getting the Lead Out By Putting it in the Mix

One unexpected side-effect to all the silliness and craziness of the week: it seemed to be a lovely little boon to my creative side. I found myself writing more, playing guitar more, and making playlists for friends more. I love a good mixtape from friends and I love making’em. It’s great for starting and continuing conversations, setting the mood, and catching up with friends you’ve been meaning to get back in touch with. While these benefits may seem obvious, they’re worth recognizing. I’ve got a few more up my sleeve before the weekend’s out. Maybe there’s one in there for you if you ask nicely.

What are you guys listening to these days? What’s on your recent playlists?

Hope all’s well with you guys. Have a great weekend.