Everything about this song resonates for this country girl but this isn’t about me. This is about Yola.
I stumbled across her when Paste magazine recommended her album Walk Through Fire as an Americana album I should get to sooner than later. I clicked on it, listened to every song in one sitting, downloaded it and haven’t been able to stop listening.
Yolanda Quarterly or “Yola” grew up in Bristol, England in a home where music was band but you know, she had a calling and followed it. The world is a better place because she did.
Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys produced this amazing piece of work, highlighting the talent of this woman. Every song on this album has a “this could be anywhere” and timeless resonance.
“Ride Out in the Country” quickly made it to the top of my playlist partly because this is who I am, the jump in my truck turn up the music, let the wind flow through my fingers, walk in the woods to sort things out, contemplate stories, find the perfect image or seek out answers.
The video here surprised me, didn’t see the shovel and hole coming but I love how she does it in a dress and work boots. It’s badass.
The album and Yola herself have recently been nominated for the Americana Honors and Awards. I know we haven’t heard the last of her.
Unlike anything else, music is the wormhole to my youth.
During the summer of 1981, my family moved from a small town in Southwestern Pennsylvania to Mesa, a growing suburb of Phoenix. The contrast between the two places couldn’t have been more vast. I was six, and this is where I grew up.
Equally as vast is the polarization between Rush fans and Rush haters. I don’t think this gap is larger with any other band in rock history, the zealousness between the two factions. I’m on the good side, of course.
One of the most immediately recognizable opening riffs, those synths, those lovely dark synths. It sets the tone. I am brought back to that suburban home at 143 East Jasmine Street. It’s the theme, the words. Peart’s lyrics are mine. He wrote my biography. He knew my mind, my emotions, my longings and struggles. “Be cool or be cast out.”
In the 80s, suburbs began to sprawl as families flocked to them. Arizona was a den of outside influences, a place for the re-locaters, such as my family. But I felt like I needed something else. I tried incredibly hard to fit in, I wore too many different personas so I could be friends with all the different types of kids in the neighborhood. Depending on the week, I was good to some, awful to others. It was an impossible balancing act just to be accepted. But man did I pursue it with such vigor!
“And start to dream of somewhere to relax their restless flight.” When I got older, I moved around quite a bit. Restless indeed. I think there is a direct correlation to that behavior and growing up in a suburb. It was difficult for me to be satiated in that environment: “In between the bright lights, and the far unlit unknown.” That was Mesa perfectly: Phoenix to the west, and nothing but dark desolate desert to the east. I was stuck in that limbo called suburbia.
I lived in that house on Jasmine Street until I was fourteen. That’s when my parents separated. It was also the year I started to really digest what music is. As opposed to something that previously brought either joy or sadness, it became that thing where I understood why it caused those affections.
I listen to “Subdivisions” specifically, and I am brought back to a plane of existence far from my current one. It’s a bittersweet place. But a song is like any form of art: the best ones take you on a journey, they get inside you, they linger afterwards. They make you think, feel, wonder.
And they bring you back. For better or worse. “Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights….”
*Some names were changed to hide their real identity.
Four years ago, Lewis, my schoolmate, joined a taekwondo session organized through his sister’s ballet company in Davao. I wanted to be part of it, too, but I just cannot ask my mother to join.
I’m a total copycat. Sometimes, when I know others joined any event that seem to help a lot for me, I easily push myself to get engaged. However, deep inside my head I know not all things end up good. Or maybe, I just seem to quit.
He was the only guy who could dance among my entire batch, and I had this sensation I was feeling deep inside. I tried to approach him but he usually brushed it off. So with the help of my best friend Vernie, I was able to befriend him.
Before I had to confirm that his involvement is not a joke, I was watching music videos of Prince in YouTube. His hit “Breakfast Can Wait” was my top favorite, coincident that there was this red lady kicking with her stilettos in the video.
Since then, every time Lewis gets into his taekwondo competition, Prince is always the playlist in my head. I keep repeating some of his songs like “Cream”, “1999”, “Free”, “Little Red Corvette”, and more.
In 2017, I was lucky to get one of his biography books titled after him in the bookshop, shortly before the management decided to change the establishment into an art shop just as calligraphy and lettering became a trend in the Philippines. After taking a glimpse on some pages of the book, there was one thing I learned about Prince: he was also a movie star. Can’t believe it? Me, too; I thought he was the first to do that.
The following year, when April came, the taekwondo trend came back. As school was about to end, my life was nothing but more of distortion as ever. I wanted to escape my fuss over Lewis and the rest of my batch mates, so I went over YouTube again and watched clips of Prince’s movies, like some from “Purple Rain”, “Under The Cherry Moon”, and “Graffiti Bridge”.
Then I had this idea of writing a book dedicated for him entitled All Time, Good Time together with the song “Thieves In The Temple”.
I could still remember the pictures of the music video coming in my head as I recall all my controversies for the last time around — how the static of emotional torture hit me and how senseless it is to have somebody who had nothing to do but play games. Lewis is smart; his gaming attitude just killed it.
Love come quick
Love come in a hurry
There are thieves in the temple tonight
They don’t care where they kick
Just as long as they hurt u
There are thieves in the temple tonight
Then, when I was out of my old school for my writing workshop that May, he invited me to join with the taekwondo team. Even so, it was too late; I already had a league of my own. Besides, what more could I get when I still have to pay the price of a thousand for the entire session? I shut it off. I said no.
Almost a year after, he finally got his black belt. I would have told him congratulations, but I guess it would become useless. Even being “friends” is no match to the turning point of my dramatic change in the aftermath of my distorted old life.
Well, I love looking at the lyrics rather than the music alone. For now, I just wanted to commemorate May with this, remembering all the lessons from the past, that I should not waste my time for all the nonsense stuff because I still have more work to be done.
I earned a minor in French in college but I’ve never been to France or even Canada. I don’t encounter the language as often as I’d like to, but I am still enamored with French cinema and music.
I remember being treated to lyrics in English, German, French and Japanese the first time I heard the “Oh Ah!” and “Monokini” albums by Stereo Total. Near the end of the 90s, I heard their cheeky tune “C’est la mort” on our local college radio station and had to hear more.
“Supergirl” is a fun, dance-y offering and the alternating vocals taunt and tease like characters in French New Wave films or songs by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. Even if you don’t know French, or the lyrics seem a bit ridiculous, you can appreciate the lively musicality and the homage to somewhere and someone new.
A bit more lighthearted fare, this song is such a fun toe-tapper with an endearing throwback style. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling doe-eyed and donning my faux eyelashes and ennui posthaste!
Time moves, man: sometimes slowly, sometimes sideways, sometimes with unbearable celerity. But its constant is always motion.
Moving, just keep moving
’til I don’t know what I’m saying
I’ve been moving so long
The days all feel the same
Through time, we are propelled through space. We go from Day 1 to Day Now, a specific place along the line we travel from birth to death. But how do we distinguish if this day is unlike any other? The peripheral landscape might be different: the colours are greener? — the birds are chirpier? — the strangers seem to smile more?
And how does gravity affect the movement? Can it bend time onto itself, to where present me can kiss the forehead of 14 year old me, and I can whisper solemnly, “this will pass, young sir — just keep on moving.”
Supergrass is phenomenal. I hold them up there with Radiohead, and Oasis, as my favorite bands from across the pond during the last couple decades. And honestly, I think their discography, as a whole, probably outdoes those other two bands, as I adore all their albums. Their debut, I Should Coco, is a raucous display of pop sensibilities through a filter of English punk attitude (you’re surely familiar with “Alright” — which to me is what I think Ray Davies would have written if he were born in the late 70s). The whole album is downright anthemic.
Moving, just keep moving
Well I don’t know why to stay
No ties to bind me
No reasons to remain
Though they also didn’t rest on that formula. Their third release, Supergrass, is a masterpiece. It’s more “Village Green” than “You Really Got Me,” with lovely songs that might evoke English meadows on rainy afternoons. “Moving” is the lead track, and it reveals the perfect voice of Gaz Coombes. The song starts with that voice over an acoustic and subtle synth, through the verse. The chorus bounces in, with the bass and drums and electric guitar. There’s a beautiful juxtaposition between the two sections, which comprise the whole song (the third “verse” plays out with no vocals, but rather an outro solo that mirrors the verse vocal melody). It’s a simple song construct that is executed brilliantly.
Moving, keep on moving
Where I feel I’m home again
And when it’s over
I’ll see you again
Time, man. It moves. And we go where the line takes us through space. And we can only anticipate what our future experiences might offer us.
Until then: there’s Supergrass. There’s Gaz Coombes. There’s symmetry as we wait to live, as we move forward.
I started writing this on the 1st day of spring 2019. Even if the weather’s not quite there yet, this song gives hints of renewal. That smooth bass sound and pleasant groove help us make the shift into a new season with a curious caution. But there’s no need to shy from brighter skies here; RAMP presents a much-needed warm welcome with “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”
While working in a record store in Cincinnati from 2005–2008, we had a nice share of in-store performances and meet-and-greets. From the beloved, hometown Psychodots to local hero Bootsy Collins to the enchanting Over the Rhine and even… Stryper… many artists and groups stopped in or played there.
RAMP was a group I was not familiar with locally, as I grew up an hour away in a town that had many of its own claim-to-fame music greats. I heard whisperings of how iconic RAMP was and how the name stood for “Roy Ayers Music Productions.” Well-known jazz musician Roy Ayers did, in fact, write and produce for the group, but did not play or sing in the quintet. They released one album, “Come Into Knowledge,” in the 1970s that has since appeared in samples and been revered by hip-hop artists.
Meeting RAMP was like suddenly feeling surrounded by good energy. No-frills men and women who exude the same mellow, meditational feel inherent in their music. “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” is an underrated cover of a Roy Ayers Ubiquity track (on an album titled after the song) but born out of the Queen City.
I am now finally finishing this write-up as we get closer to summer. No matter the season, this song presents an easy and free soundtrack to anyone who longs to be surrounded by the light of life, the gentle warmth. This song has wide, open arms that invite you to bask in the repetition of sunshine.
Joni Mitchell turned seventy-five this year and I tried to write a song recommendation but really, have you ever tried to choose one Joni song for anything? I mean the woman is an influencer.
I always cite her as my single greatest influence. Multitudes of singer-songwriters, artists and writers say she is the one who has had the greatest impact on their work. The woman is a genius, a one of a kind. Her art resonates through generations. It endures and will be around long after my ashes are spread.
I grew up surrounded by her in my childhood home. In another essay that grew too long while trying to write a single song recommendation I wrote about my Top Five Goose Bump moments:
5) July 6, 1983 — “Chinese Cafe” Joni Mitchell Poplar Creek Music Theatre, Chicago
4) 0400 Jan 1, 1982: “A Case of You”, lying in my bed, KUFM radio, Missoula, MT
3) Spring 1973: “Little Green” -My baby brother’s first christening, St. Anthony’s Church, Missoula, MT
2) October 1992: “Hejira” Driving HWY 200 along the Blackfoot River, MT
1) August 2, 1989: “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” garage, pile of snow tires, Missoula, MT
Clearly, she has been there for all of them. I can recite her lyrics and liner notes from every album and the inspiration for almost every song. Brandi Carlile is going to perform the entire Blue album this fall in Seattle and I can hardly wait for that recording to be released.
Joni Mitchell is the quintessential artist and influencer, she has been with me for as long as I can remember — part of her pours out of me in these lines from time to time…
I leave you with “Hejira” but go ahead and try to choose one song that doesn’t find it’s way into you. Happy Birthday, Joni.
Listen to this song and you can hear a metamorphosis stirring. Scout Niblett goes from quasi-Cat Power to Iron Butterfly in this unusual transformation of a song in 3 or 4 parts.
There are definitely glimpses of early Matador Records indie artists like Mary Timony in Niblett’s music but Scout was never meant for the brooding-turned-jangle of many indie solo artists and bands. Secretly Canadian and Drag City proved perfect labels in which she could systematically destroy her own lovely songs; turn them into bitter, ugly noise sometimes. On stage she seemed nervous until the heavier instrumentation went wild and it was like seeing Bruce Banner become The Hulk. This petite Englishwoman turned gargoyle, worst friend, best enemy, something feared, yet something full of fear and riding the wave of it until the storm of her own music passed.
“Drummer Boy” starts feeling like she’s dropping hints from 1995 and Thurston Moore’s “Cherry’s Blues” but can she convince herself that this is just another alternative song? Nope. Guitars fall out of tune and the song takes on a second form and drums get cardiovascular quickly; act as absolutely no one’s wallflower even when the a cappella appears and Scout sings to declaration then the song goes marching on.
By the end the vocal is shouting in every direction, head spinning and words frothing I CAN’T WAIT… I GOTTA GO NOW! The drums echo this anger. Frenzy of bass pedal working overtime ensues while presumably this tasked drummer boy of song has had his fill of pa-rum-pa-pum-pumming. At the end of the day he is still a child that just wants to be a child or sit in the sandbox. Or I misunderstood the lyrics. Regardless, the changing energy from start to finish in “Drummer Boy” reveals both a driving power and a need for something stripped down and new.
There’s something in this music that makes me not care about smiling wide to reveal all my missing teeth.
Who among us hasn’t emerged from a terrible relationship with nothing but some wounds and some songs you’ll love forever?
I have a terrible relationship from many years ago to thank for some of the songs and artists I still love, including Concrete Blonde. I vividly remember the day I sat on a shitty couch in some shitty house with that shitty guy and someone put on Bloodletting and the titular opening song came pouring out. I didn’t talk to anyone during the length of the album. I simply sat in wonder.
I stole the CD from said boyfriend and listened to it incessantly for weeks. It was an album I could play the whole way through without skipping a song.
As you’ve probably guessed, that relationship ended. Badly. But I kept the CD.
Over the past several years, I’d kind of forgotten about this album. For a long time after that relationship’s demise, Bloodletting — as much as I loved it — served as a reminder of the sad, timid, lonely girl I was for those few years. It also served as a reminder of who I was in the aftermath: distrustful, ashamed, lost. So, after randomly hearing one of my favorite songs by Concrete Blonde from Bloodletting, the agonizing final track, “Tomorrow, Wendy,” and revisiting the full album for the first time in perhaps a decade, I was grateful to take stock of who I am now.
“Darkening of the Light,” the fourth track on the album, is the one that solidified my love during my first listen all those years ago. I played it constantly on that old CD. It’s gorgeous and witchy and mysterious. And it still holds up, all these years later. (I still anticipate the place that the CD would skip on this song.)
I’m listening to it repeatedly today as a reminder that beautiful things grow in shit places. In celebration of a bad relationship that ultimately gave me the courage and insight to become who I am. And that gifted me a gorgeous, emotive album that kicks a lot of ass.
In 1983, eighteen-year-old songwriter Vic Chesnutt was left partially paralyzed from an auto accident. He subsequently considered himself a “quadriplegic from neck down,” utilizing a wheelchair and with limited use of his hands. But that didn’t stop him from playing music. And it certainly did nothing to vanquish the aching tremble of his voice. He moved to Athens, GA, where he was discovered by Michael Stipe, who produced his first two records.
In 1996, he was the focus of the charity record Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation (The Sweet Relief Musicians Fund is a non-profit that helps musicians in medical or financial need). Celebrated musicians of the time got together and recorded his songs, including R.E.M., Garbage, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Cracker, among others.
The courage of a coward
Is greater than all others
A scaredy cat’ll scratch ‘im
If you back him in a corner
It’s impossible to understand the effects of the tragedy of another. We can sympathize, even weep for the sufferer. But to watch Chesnutt perform his songs, there’s nothing but silence, and awe. Maybe it’s seeing him in the wheelchair, or the bent fingers of his strumming hand. Or maybe it’s the pained expressions of his face as his bellows fill the hall. Or maybe it’s just his brilliance as a songwriter and performer, no matter his circumstances.
But I, I, I, I am a coward
In 2009, on Christmas Day, Chesnutt died from an overdose of muscle relaxants. He had previously attempted suicide at least three times before (and chronicled in his song “Flirted With You All My Life“). At the time, he was severely in debt due to medical bills.
I can’t say much about another man being a coward. But I can say, with certainty, that carrying on after such tragedy, to pour your soul into music, or anything of value to yourself, is the farthest from being a coward as there is. Vic Chesnutt is an artist still living through his songs, songs that ache to be heard.