Tag Archives: James Taylor

#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.

#MondayMixtape – The Promise of the Open Road

photo by Mark Swick
the road to endless possibility (photo by Mark Swick)

This is the 2nd installment of our ever-so-often series on Songs About Travel and Far-off Places.

Healthy, free, the world before me
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
– Walt Whitman

The thrill of exploration, the promise of something new. When everyday is filled with this sort of perspective, it gives us reasons to wake up in the morning and make every day count. Perhaps that’s why there are so many songs about the promise of the open road and the shining potential of what lies just beyond the horizon. There’s so much out there to be discovered. You just have to get moving and be open to whatever comes. Even the most distant milestones and goals can be made all the more attainable by the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and taking your first steps in their direction.

All that potential, all that promise– all that traveling– can also take its toll on even the most hardy of explorers.  We may get too comfortable with a routine, lose track of the spark that set us out on the path to begin with, or maybe we’re blown off course by forces out of our control. But the potential for adventure and discovery is always there. It just might require a different approach– a different route– to find it.

These songs speak to the promise of new discovery that open roads– and open minds– inspire us to believe in.

1. Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road

No song rivals this one in terms of brilliance and gusto– the sound of joy uninhibited. Such promise… such potential… It’s a “do you remember when we were wild and free” moment that’s running on a super-charged, turbo engine of love and burning, yearning desire. “These two lanes will take us anywhere.” All that power– all that potential– encapsulated in the long, emphatic delivery of that final word: “Anywhere.” Springsteen’s signature vibrato practically shivers with nervous excitement and anticipation of a man ready to take on whatever comes his way.

It’s the soundtrack starter to any James-Dean-esque drag racing scene. A start your engines moment, and feel those lions purr underfoot. Look out at the road as far as the eye can see and start dreaming.

2. Elton John – Tiny Dancer

Dial back the pulse pounding, sweat inducing pace and a massage in a little more dreamy, misty remembrance of those bygone days and you get this Elton John classic. A tender ode to a love that once was and frenzied, frantic setting that made that made it all possible– out there on the wide open road. It’s a mad world out there, filled with some crazy, zany characters, John sings. People trying to sell you everything including those things that can’t be measured like businessmen selling love or “Jesus freaks” selling God and salvation. They promise quick fixes and cure-alls but are then gone as quickly as they’ve arrived and the problems still remain.

The only sure refuge, John sings, is to put your trust in the ones who really love you– the ones who will always be there. “Count the headlights on the highway / You’ve had a busy day today…” Let me take the lead for now, and lay back in the comfort of this trusty, rusty, and warm old jalopy. It’s heading on to somewhere fresh and new, on a course for somewhere, moving south by south-wherever. The chance for a new start is there just over the horizon so long as we’re together.

3. James Taylor – Riding on a Railroad

For all the positivity and promise that time on the open road affords, some days are just tough no matter where you are. Those days where time seems to fly by even as you feel it’s slogging along and that you’ve just been sitting in place for hours on end; those days you think about how much time you spend promoting other people’s visions and wish you had more time to spend on the things you care about; those days you aspire to your pinnacle best but simply end up chipping at the weeds below. This is the song for those days.

It’s the soliloquy of a man reflecting on his lot and wondering how it got this way. What happens when you’ve worked hard all your life only to realize that you’ve just been playing a supporting role to someone else’s succes “singing someone else’s song” (and that the higher power you always believed in might just be another with “chains upon his hands”– a mere mortal passenger in this life just like you)?

That’s what this song’s all about, and it says it all in just over two and a half minutes.

Some days are like that. But even as your beliefs may feel shaken or rattled to the core– that life’s no simple dichotomy of black and white, fair and unfair, or right or wrong– the best thing you can do is hold on tight, “sing along,” and believe in yourself to get through. You’ll get there. One trip at a time.

4. U2 – Angel of Harlem

Other times there’s a certain comfort derived from those tried and true melodies. Songs like the one remembered that’s exulted and celebrated here. These weary travelers could just as easily have been on another routine trip to New York, but it wasn’t. Because of this song. It’s a jubilant exhalation of finding security and contentment that can shine its way through any gloom and withstand all earthly elements and the test of time weather it’s a “cold and wet December day” or an ability to “see the truth behind the lies.” And as the song builds towards its zenith, it’s clear that like finding “salvation in the blues,” hope and joy can be found anywhere. Anywhere.

5. Paul Simon – Under African Skies

When the situations aren’t so rosy and bright, when we are compelled to get up and go by those aforementioned outside factors, this song reminds us that we never need feel alone in our situations. Our story– our song– is inextricably linked to the ones who have come before, connecting us all as part of that great wide, wandering world. “This is the story of how we begin to remember” and this is an appreciation to the power of music as both constant companion to us as we are now as well as the link to our history and place in time.

Throwback Thursday: Campfire Songs and Evening Rituals

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These last two weeks have been hard. Really, really hard.

I know they say that the hard days and weeks are the ones that build character, but how can you build anything when it gets so bad you can hardly think straight?

It’s moments like these that get me thinking about simpler times. Maybe they weren’t necessarily happier times, but they were definitely times of greater stamina. More optimism. A greater inclination to get right back up when I was down and to push through the tough and the difficult. Moments when I felt like– when I knew– I was in control.

Moments like those evenings at camp where after a long day of activities, meals, and other moments of mostly-organized chaos, we would get our bunk ready for bed. Once they’d all showered, brushed their teeth, and used the leftover time for some of the loudest most rambunctious games of go fish I’ve ever witnessed, we’d somehow get all 12 of our overactive 9 and 10 year old boys quieting down in their own beds.

I’d pull out my guitar, we’d turn out the lights, and, regardless of how long the day felt or however many fire drills big or small we had to take care of, my co-counselor would have the kids go around and share one thing that went well that day and one thing they’d like to do better tomorrow while I started to strum a soft tune. The day’s hardships and difficulties would begin to melt away as kids talked sleepily but excitedly about ice cream pops at lunch and extra pool time during elective hour or their want to have more time at the archery range and a chance at waterskiing. Simple though these items may have seemed, there was infinite depth to these happy thoughts shared so earnestly and honestly.

Then I’d let the music build and swell and play a nice song or two to end the evening. One song would always be some pop song or old favorite that I’d reimagined in its softest, most lullaby-appropriate state, but the other would always be James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. Here was a song that was meant to be played at day’s end to calm the wild beasts of our racing, leaping imaginations and to keep the scarier more menacing things at bay for at least another evening or two.

No matter how weary, weather worn, drooped, or down we felt,  somehow these songs always made us feel more at ease.

These days may be hard as may be the ones after that, but it won’t be like this forever. There’s good and bad in everything. I just have to look for it– both parts– and then think on it, smile at it– and then let it go. Then I’ll sit down in a comfy spot, turn the lights down a bit, and play a soft song, and get ready for my chance at tomorrow.

Monday Mixtape: Front Row Seats Everytime

What I love about live recordings is how intimate they are. Here you get the wonderful opportunity to experience a band or artist’s music in a live setting that can be reproduced anytime you want. It’s like being in front row center every evening without the expensive cover fees, and if it’s a live recording of a high-profile act like the Stones or the Boss you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.

The best live albums, like the best live shows, are the ones that extend a band’s talent in the way they experiment with the delivery of their repertoire and in the way they interact with their audience on both a visual and sonic level. There’s a reason lots of spectacularly popular pop artists seldom put out a live album: heavy on the visual spectacle, light on sonic depth.

These, therefore, are decidedly not of that vein of performance. They’re as good on the ears as no doubt they are in person.

1. John Mayer – Gravity
Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles – Columbia, 2008

If this one sounds familiar, then yes, you got me. I used it on a list from last week. Okay, so no points for originality on my part, but this song deserves to be on a list such as this. The proof is most undeniably in those guitar solos in the way they build and swell with each passing moment, made brighter and carried higher by a fantastic arrangement of backing brass and vocals. Please. Put this one on and forget all else for awhile. Your moment of zen awaits.

2. Theresa Andersson – Oh Mary
Live at Le Petit (DVD) – Basin Street Records, 2010

For every rule there’s always an outlier, in this case it’s a clip that makes the case for the “seeing is believing” crowd. Whatever the case, Andersson’s bluesy cover of the traditional folk song is awesome. Multi-instrumentalist, lover of loops, and fancy footwork to boot. Continue reading Monday Mixtape: Front Row Seats Everytime