The paradox of loving an artist, wanting to keep them to yourself like a polished stone in your pocket and posting a photograph on social media to share with the world is real. Samantha Crain is that rock for me.
I first saw her in 2009, Bend, Oregon at McMenamins Old St. Francis School with her band the Midnight Shivers. I hadn’t heard of her. I was on vacation and she was playing where I was staying. Why not? It was a free show.
The tiny Oklahoma, Choctaw native and winner of 2 NAMMYs (Native American Music Awards) began her set. The hair on my arms waved liked wheat in the wind. I knew I was watching something special. Dumb luck is what I do well.
Spellbound, I had her sign a CD after the show bumbling inanely about how much I loved it and her cover of Beck’s “Lost Cause”. I was an instant fan girl. Since then she has continued to put out solo albums that are lyrically exquisite, layered in self-effacement and humor.
The song “Santa Fe” from her 2010 release You (Understood)is a gorgeous example of what she does. She collaborates with the Michigan band Frontier Ruckus to deliver longing and hard decisions, regret about the life we choose.
I’m struck by the lines: “… And I don’t live my time like I should But they’re killin’ off my childhood Taking all my heroes babe One by one….” Stops me mid-step every time.
She’s an amazing artist. While I want to hold her in my pocket as my secret, I am compelled to shout out to the world, “Look at what I found.”
I used to be patriotic, in that t-shirty, tearing-up-at-the-anthem, wanting-to-execute-flag-burners kind of way, but when I was seventeen I got into Rage Against the Machine and Kurt Vonnegut and eventually grew into a real person. Ain’t saying that’s the only model to follow, just that some people never develop beyond self-parody, and those people are the subject of a wonderful John Prine song called “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”
I don’t believe in having heroes, except for John Prine. I wish I could say I grew up worshipping him, but I came up in that New Country phase, Garth Brooks and his ilk. I actually did grow up a Prine fan; I just didn’t know it. One of my favorite songs was “You Never Called Me By My Name,” which was made famous by David Allan Coe, but written by Steve Goodman (who is credited in the song’s lyrics) and John Prine. That song exhibits the characteristics I love about John Prine, the playfulness, the wit, the self-awareness, all on display in “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” the seventh track off his first album, John Prine. It gets overshadowed by more well-known songs like “Paradise” and “Angel of Montgomery,” but goddamn it is good. The opening lines, even with the misplaced modifier grammar nerds are about to spot, should be taught in writing classes:
While digesting Reader’s Digest in the back of a dirty bookstore
A plastic flag with gum on the back fell out on the floor
The narrator takes the flag with him and sticks it on his windshield, which by the end of the song is so full up with patriotic displays he can’t see out of it. When he dies in a car crash, the narrator finds himself denied entrance to Heaven because
Your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore
We’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like killing, no matter what the reasons for
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore
Some folks, the folks who approve of blowing people up with our fancy killer skyrobots, would say the lyrics are self-righteousness, but this song is the only anthem worth standing for.
I’m linking to a live version in which Prine says he had retired this song but brought it back in honor of George W. Bush.
Gotta have this song on your dance party playlist! If you like a feel-good tune that starts an instant shimmy, I highly suggest “Come on Now” by The Kinks! It has never failed me whether I have turned it up in someone’s living room after a potluck or when I put it on numerous mixtapes to fill the void exactly where a fun beat should be.
Early Kinks music was one of my favorite to explore when I first started growing my record collection. I was familiar with a lot of their 80s music and some earlier stuff. I had just stepped out of my indie rock comfort zone and sought out more garage rock of the 60s: The Sonics, The Shadows of Knight, The Remains. I was increasingly curious about the beginnings of bands I knew mostly by their hit single(s) or their incarnation in more recent times. Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks were a few bands whose 1960s presence was fascinating and essential in my reverse-order music education.
The overall sound and exciting energy of “Come On Now” is intoxicating. I used to have this vintage dress with mushrooms all over it. This was a party dress and perfect accompaniment to this song and at these Mod/60s/Britpop dance nights I attended with friends.
It amazes me as I write this that the lyrics never stuck. Other than the title lines and “It’s getting late and we better go,” I only knew partial lyrics. Reading those lyrics today I am thinking “What is this song even about?” Either a couple is on the way to or leaving from a party. Either the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek or are meant to rib the girl being told repeatedly to “come on.” I won’t try to analyze but isn’t it interesting how we can love a song and hear it an infinite amount of times and still have no idea what it’s about?
At least dancing around in that mushroom dress left me oblivious, but loving this catchy track so much.
I was sitting in a hostel on the other side of the world when I first listened to this track from Paddy Casey’s 1999 album ‘Amen (So Be It)’. It was a wet summer Down Under. I had run away from the horrors of PTSD brought on by a series of nasty incidents I witnessed working as a police officer in the UK. All the running away did was make me feel more vulnerable. Alone, a foreign country, unresolved trauma: a recipe for disaster.
A line in the song: ‘trying to catch the sun’, tucked in amongst the gentle piano and fractured vocal, echoed around the hostel walls as if it was trying to bring itself to my attention.
There I was, just another backpacker seeking a summer when it was winter back home, kidding myself I was hungry for adventure and long days on the beach with a beer, when really, the warmth of a winter by the fire: at home surrounded by family and friends is all I wanted.
The tracks of my tears were leading me home. This beautiful song which nestles towards the end of the album was the vehicle for the start of the next chapter of my life: one that started with returning home because ‘summer’s dark/took all it can steal’.
Robert Ellis, recently rebranded as the Texas Piano Man, has announced a new album, due for release February 14th 2019 (a valentines gift Everyoneis sure to want!)
Why is this exciting you might ask? Well, in answer to that question, I would point you immediately to this man’s back catalogue!
Robert Ellis, whose musical capabilities and knowlege is astounding (not to mention the man’s dress sense, but I digress), has dazzled with songs from his solo releases like; California, Drivin’, TV Song, Chemical Plant and Photographs. And incredible side projects with other artists producing unforgettable albums like “Western Movies” by Traveller (a ‘super-band’ formed in collaboration with Cory Chisel & Jonny Fritz) and “Dear John” an album of duets with Courtney Hartman; this man has revealed himself to the world as a true musical wizard!
If his track record were not enough, then this new song, paired with a Natural-Born-Killers -esque music video and delightfully tongue-in-cheek website, should be enough to charm any music lover.
Ellis, suited and booted in a white tuxedo & suave matching cowboy hat, is ready to serenade you again and again from the surreal seat of a discarded piano somewhere out in the desert. Get ready to watch as He straddles the song’s title and takes his sweet time in expanding upon it’s full meaning; which appears to be, that in a world absolutely bursting with conflict, the best course of action might just be to fall recklessly and madly in love!
Please afford yourself a good laugh and gain a new ear worm today with this song! (Perhaps with earphones in if you live/work with those of a sensitive disposition)
I was flipping through music stations on the way into work and came across “Shooting Star” by Bad Company. I was immediately taken back to the first time I’d heard this song (or at least the most memorable time when I heard it). It was around the year 1995, and I was still fairly young and my sister and brother were even younger. It was a hot, humid Saturday night in the summer. And while we usually stayed up pretty late on the weekends — especially in the summer — we usually did not stay up and be outside that late at night. But here we were, all camped out in the backyard on the largest comforter that Mom found in the linen closet. Tonight my parents made an exception.
Because tonight was the first night we were going to watch a meteor shower as a family.
We had moved “up north” into a very rural area of the state only a few years ago. We moved from a small city full of sidewalks and streetlamps to a house bordered on one side by the forest and on the other sides by small houses owned by quiet, elderly neighbors. In the country, you could see all the stars in the sky as long as it wasn’t overcast. It was the perfect setting to watch a meteor shower.
So here we were, all five of us, lazing around on a blanket with our eyes glued to the night sky. To be honest, I don’t remember much about how many meteors we’d seen that night. But I remember two things clearly.
One is “Shooting Star” playing on the radio a couple of times while we were out there, the DJ clearly excited about the meteor shower that could be seen in our sky that night. I thought it was a good song, and being 11 years old, thinking the DJ was very lucky that there was a song out there that he could play just for nights full of meteor showers.
The other thing I remember is kind of nerdy, but probably still important and still makes me chuckle. On that night, I learned how condensation worked. And it still helps me out today.
Here’s how that odd conversation started. My parents’ drink of choice on Saturday nights was, for decades, Bacardi Silver and Diet Pepsi on the rocks. So they both had their mixed drinks outside and I was musing about the collection of “dew” around the glass but only going as high as the level of the liquid inside. My parents were always good about teaching us stuff, so I got a little mini-lesson about humidity and condensation — the condensation always builds up on the side of the glass that is warmer than what’s touching the other side. Or with plants, when the air that touches them is warmer than the plant itself.
Hmm. That’s how that stuff works.
What does that mean to me now? It means when my car windows fog up throughout the year (which happens regularly in Michigan’s humid climate), I know whether to turn the defroster to Hot or to Cold depending on which side of the glass collects condensation. Very helpful for a person like me who has driven cars without a working air conditioner to help draw out moisture from the muggy Michigan weather.
In short, this song often reminds me of one of my fondest childhood memories. We had so much fun chilling out as a family, waiting for the meteors to come. As I get older and life begins to change, it reminds me of how important it is to make happy memories as often as I can.
There are albums that own you from the opening line through the last breath. H.C. McEntire’s solo record Lionheart begins with the hymn “A Lamb, A Dove”. Heather’s voice and piano chords, “You’re in my blood, You’re in my head, You’re in my eyes, You’re in my bed…”
Welcome to the service, sisters and brothers. The record ends with heart stopping desire “Dress in the Dark”: “You rolled into town all wrong, When everything was calm, Oh baby, are you kidding me?”
Heather McEntire is the front woman for the North Carolina indie band Mount Moriah. I’ve been an unabashed fan of theirs for years. When they decided to take a break so one of the members could start a family McEntire went on tour with Angel Olson as a back up singer. But look, nobody puts Heather in the corner.
There’s a readily available story about how she wanted to do a punk collaboration with Kathleen Hanna who steered her back to the baptismal depths of the past, the religious southern roots, the classic country music from her childhood “in the land she cut her teeth on” — all in conflict with her coming out. The result is Lionheart.
To choose just one song from this 2018 release is sacrilege. This Heather McEntire and Jared Hogan produced video of the song “Baby’s Got the Blues” is a stunner. She’s a poet and a storyteller; she’s a musician and songbird. She’s the real deal. This is H.C. McEntire.
I’m an unabashed Kottke fan. I’ve got every album he’s ever released including 1969’s “12 String Blues” of which only 1000 were pressed on the fittingly named Oblivion Records. I’ve seen him in concert with my Dad every year since 1993.
The reasons I’m recommending this song is simple. In a tune just shy of two and a half minutes, Kottke perfectly captures the quotidian frustrations in our work-a-day lives. It’s a ditty we can all identify with. We just want the damn thing to work so we can get on with it.
Kottke is a master of the acoustic guitar. He is not, by comparison, a compelling vocalist. He famously compared his own vocal style to goose flatus on a muggy day. His albums tend to be either just him playing the guitar or full of vocal pieces and backing instrumentation. My Father’s Face, the album which this comes from, is in the second category.
When Kottke works within his vocal range, as he does with this tune, you can tell he is having a lot of fun. This track is a perfect introduction to what Kottke does with vocal pieces.
There is an accordion (or maybe a concertina) in the mix of this song for reasons I don’t fully understand, but it works. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as in a different song he plays a pie pan. Eclecticism, Leo is thy name.
The first time I heard Frank Turner was on a punk mixtape that was floating around the Internet in those days when we were still finding ways to hold on to the vague physicality of music.
“I Am Disappeared” is a microcosm of that analogue nostalgia. A shot of passionate energy to ears used to sanitised pop, driving guitars and keys form the rousing backdrop to Frank’s clear-eyed storytelling.
The beatnik aspiration of escaping the rigours of everyday life runs through “I Am Disappeared,” taking to the road with the bare essentials “on the worst days /When it feels like life weighs ten thousand tons.” With allusions to counter-culture icons like Bob Dylan and Ernest Hemingway, Frank Turner sets out on the road to an uncertain, but hopeful future, as “electric pulses
in the pathways of the sleeping soul of the country.”
For anyone who’s had a dream whose itch you can’t shake, an urge to shed the monotony of life, and simply live for music and life — Frank Turner has the perfect anthem.
Where did this song come from? It’s an otherworldly, transcendent forecast of a bleak future. If you only know Nina Simone’s voice from her jazz standards, peek into this track for a hint of her musical capabilities beyond her signature blues.
“22nd Century” can be overwhelming. From a dreadful vantage point, Simone recounts how people are barely breathing, bodies are in distress. Given that the song was released in 1971, and songs around the 1950s-70s often looked towards the year 2000 when picturing decades ahead, I am forever curious as to what led to this perception of life several centuries away.
The music ripples and Simone’s voice is strongest even when it succumbs to a shaken vibrato. Nina Simone was a consummate storyteller whose forte was oriented in jazz and blues. That the song emanates sorrow and fear is not unusual fare in her repertoire.
She describes a timeline from when a plague struck and from there all life was a suffocating struggle. She fondly nods to 1972 and mentions people being free but just a few years later, all is devastated:
“Your heart is a plastic thing which can be bought.”
“Young men die in spring.”
I am not sure anyone could ever do an interpretation of the lyrics that would match the intentions of the artist herself. The richly-detailed and heavy content requires several reviews and re-listening to “22nd Century” in order to grasp the complete narration.
The tropical sound of steel drums is quite a juxtaposition against the grim settings of the future presented to the listener. Perhaps these sounds echo remembrances of the past. These sounds could be the last vestiges of a civilization prior to the end times of the late 20th century.
This is a truly complex and fascinating song worth the nearly nine minute length and it sings like profound, poetic fiction.