Erin Recommends: “Santa Fe” by Samantha Crain

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 Fefrom 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.”

Song recommendation by Erin L. Cork

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Kevin Recommends: “Totally Wired” by The Fall

Hey everyone.

It’s Friday, and it’s been a long couple of weeks. If you’re feeling like me, you’re beat down and exhausted. You’re irate. You’re peeved.

In times like these, I do what I need to do to get through that final push. To cut through the bullshit. To keep moving.

I drink a jar of coffee, I might take some of these, and I get totally wired.

Let’s finish out the week by getting weird and wired.

(Song recommendation by Kevin D. Woodall)

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Sarah Recommends: “Spectre” by Radiohead

“I’m lost, I’m a ghost
dispossessed, taken host…
Futures tricked by the past
Spectre, how he laughs…”

One of the great joys of this year was seeing Radiohead live in July for the second time. I was hoping that they would play this, their song for the last James Bond movie, deemed “too dark” by film executives, and replaced with a weak Sam Smith piece called “The Writing’s on the Wall.” I’m pretty snotty when it comes to Bond music, and that the Radiohead song went unused was, at the time of the film’s release, hard to take. The song swoops upward, blooms dramatically, and then ends almost too soon. It’s hard to remember that it was written to time with an opening credits sequence.

For me though, it stands out because it haunts, as the best of their songs do, and in this past week, where our country has seen another woman coming forward with a shattering event from her past, only to be vilified and doubted, reminds me of my own ghosts; the ones I try to ignore, the ones I hope will go away, realizing that they’re haunting the wrong house, the ones that I finally have to accept in order to be whole.

(Song recommendation by Sarah Nichols)

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Lee Recommends: “Eleven Plus Eleven” by Nine Below Zero

My dad and I always had a nightly routine of washing and drying of the dishes together after the evening meal. We would often listen to cassette recordings that Dad had made of his band—Commuter—in rehearsal. He’d either sing the lyrics along with the recording or make up some new ones over an instrumental demo track. His band were an old school rhythm and blues outfit: smart suits, hats and, as a gimmick, umbrellas, to fit in with their British commuter image. As Dad rinsed a plate under the tap before handing it to me, he began singing along to a harmonica, drum, guitar and bass backing on the tape.

“Eleven plus eleven, more to do when I was seven, eleven plus eleven….”

He tapped his feet furiously and nearly dropped the plate, before handing it to me for safe keeping inside a tea towel.

“Is that one of yours, Dad?” I said.

“Sadly, no. It’s Nine Below Zero.”

He reached over to the shelf in the kitchen and took down a cassette tape. It was “Third Degree” by Nine Below Zero, a British blues band. Nine Below Zero’s trademark high energy blues earned them a huge reputation on the British music scene at the back end of the seventies and early eighties. Listen to this track and you will see why. They even performed this song on the very first episode of the hit British TV comedy The Young Ones, gaining them an even bigger audience, this time of school kids and their bemused parents as they sat and watched this new surreal show together.

For the rest of that day, that week, that month, I had that damn chorus in my head. And it’s still there, rattling around. Every time I hear a reference to the “11 Plus” grammar school exam, it pops up again. Every time I sit and help my youngest daughter with her maths homework, she gets into this game of asking me what ten plus ten is, then inevitably, eleven plus eleven. Of course, my reply is always: “more to do when I was seven”. It never fails to gain a confused look, to which I just simply say “It’s called an earworm, kid.”

(Song recommendation by Lee D. Thompson)

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Metaxia Recommends: “The One and Only” by Chesney Hawkes

These lyrics take me back down memory lane, back when I was a little girl and I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox…

I am the one and only/Nobody I’d rather be/I am the one and only/You can’t take that away from me

I was actually going to recommend something more contemporary, but then I remembered these lyrics, and the first time I heard them in the film, Doc Hollywood (1991, Michael J. Fox); this song was playing in the opening scene. Like many pop music videos in the late 80s/early 90s, it’s feel good and rebellious (two of my most favorite things).

So, give it a listen, and if you were born in the 80s (like I was), I hope you get to fall in love with your One and Only.

Extra bonus: Chesney Hawkes’ strong singing voice, in a classic 80s/90s pop music video, where the girl gets the guy of her dreams…

(Song recommendation by Metaxia Tzimouli)

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Seigar Recommends: “Way Back Home” by Prince

Seigar, the photographer, is back.

“Way Back Home” is one of the nicest compositions Prince has ever made. This song shows a very unusual composition. It belongs to his 37th album: Art Official Age, an album that has been quite appreciated by most of his fans. Lianne La Havas added vocals to some tracks on the album: “Clouds,” “affirmation I & II” and “affirmation III”. She matches beautifully with Prince’s voice in this one. It seems he never performed this song — a pity for us.

Joshua Welton, the co-producer of the album, was received with mixed expectations; we may say he wasn’t that popular among his fans. The lyrics of the songs became almost an epitome of his music career and a metaphor of life and inspiration. In fact, this cohesive album was conceptual and thoughtful, simulating or presenting a journey that nowadays might be understood with different meanings due to his death. Prince looked into the past and the future in the messages of the songs, getting quite personal:

Most people in this world (Most people in this world) are born dead
But I was born alive
(I was born with this dream)

Lyrics may even work now as a sad foretelling of what happened:

I’m happiest when I can see
My way back home

An anthology compiling his material from 1995 to 2010 has just been released. You can’t find clear hits on this compilation, but all the songs are good. The closest songs to hits we can listen to are: “Musicology,” “3121” and “The Greatest Romance”. Prince had major difficulties to adapt himself to the market, closing the doors to his own legacy to be known.

Rolling Stones stated about this group of songs: “Anthology: 1995–2010 is a solid and necessary primer on 15 years in the life of a guy who deserved more. We’re lucky he left enough work for us to play catch-up with for years”.

Let’s try to know and enjoy his latest songs that just reached the fans. “Way Back Home” is the perfect way to start this journey.

If you want more, here you have my top 50 Prince songs on Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/user/jseigar/playlist/2A7x6NgGcHkR0UFSRXvYPH?si=Id-hv6NPQS6tw8aMs4wIWg

(Song recommendation by Seigar)

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Lee Recommends: “Johnny Yen” by James

“See the young men/itching to burn”

I was one of those young men in the song. No so much itching to burn but already on fire. I’d joined the British Royal Navy and first heard “Johnny Yen” on one of the many compilation tapes that friends and family of my fellow sailors had made and sent to the ship.

“Waiting for their own star turn”

I was a junior rank, on the “lower decks” as it’s called in Navy parlance. I was a frustrated officer — no confidence to take the exams for promotion, no motivation to push and push and push until I got what I wanted. Yet, somehow, I knew I was destined for something more exciting that cleaning, training, working, drinking, ad infinitum.

“Needing danger/a war will do”

Then it came. The naval blockade as part of NATO in the Adriatic Sea. They called it Operation Sharp Guard. Boarding small vessels suspected of gun running, patrolling, policing the sea. I wasn’t interested in the politics behind it. I was living. It was adrenaline fuelled work a lot of the time. This was my star turn.

“If they can’t let it out/they’ll pick on you”

Then, after weeks at sea, constantly moving like a metallic shark, we were told to take some down time. How do you go from watching villages burn and trying to stay awake on long watches, trying to process a huge amount of information and not make mistakes, to “okay guys, you can stop now”? Things go wrong. Especially where alcohol and British sailors are concerned.

“Poor old Johnny Yen set himself on fire again”

We didn’t learn. Every port, each bit of “down time” was another chance to set ourselves on fire.

Years after I finished my eight years of naval service, I still smouldered.

“Can’t you see he’s had enough?”

(Song recommendation by Lee D Thompson)

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Ethan Recommends: “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank” by Barenaked Ladies

The world has done a disservice to Barenaked Ladies.

After three decades and over a dozen studio albums, the band is still mainly seen as a one hit wonder whose one hit is a B-list meme — not quite at the heights of “All Star” but close. Recently, a podcast host drove a stake through my heart by casually asserting, “Barenaked Ladies is basically kids’ music.”

What I’ve always most admired about BNL is the varied and bizarre nature of their chosen subjects. Where so many bands churn out maudlin love songs and hollow party anthems, BNL writes about the melancholy life of a window washer, or a man plagued by postcards from an unknown sender each depicting a chimpanzee.

“Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank” is likely the best rebuttal to the idea that BNL is gussied-up kids’ music. It’s a bitter pill with an even uglier hidden center — a razor blade tucked into a lemon. From the stark frenzy of the opening fiddle riff, it’s clear we’re in a realm too dark for pop radio. The song’s images come fast and furious, so at first all that sticks is the chorus: “I’m the farmer. I work in the fields all day.” That’s no metaphor, this is the story of an actual farmer, and while it’s written in the second person, it gradually becomes clear that the subject isn’t the listener, but rather a nameless celebrity (apparently ’70s Canadian singer Anne Murray).

Around the time the uncanny ahhs start jumping across the background, the listener might start noticing references to hatchets and shotguns mixed in with the singer’s lovesick exhortations. And no sooner do you realize that this is the anthem of a fully deranged violent stalker than you get hit with a quick repeat of that frenzied fiddle and then spat out with a mind full of images both pastoral and lurid.

There are worse fates than being a one hit wonder, but it stings when that hit is so misrepresentative of the heights of which a band is capable. So consider this the most dramatic demonstration that BNL isn’t a novelty act for kids, and if you’re swayed, dive back into the catalog. You might even like the kids’ album they put out in 2008 (hey, I never said they were exclusively not kids’ music).

(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)

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