Friday, April 25, 2008

The Song in My Head

Today the song in my head is:

I Keep Faith
by Billy Bragg
from his forthcoming album
"Mr. Love & Justice"

I caught Billy Bragg shows several times in the mid-80s at the Lone Star Cafe in NYC. He remains one of my favorite singer/songwriters—nothing flashy, just good melodies and lyrics that make you think.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Song in My Head

When Paste Magazine arrives, I always look to see what is on the CD sampler that comes with every issue. In the two years that I've been subscribing, there has only been one CD that had nothing on it that I liked. Sometimes it takes a few listens to "get" a few of the songs selected by the Paste Mag staff for the CD. Other times there are several good or even great songs (at least to these ears).

I even wrote the editor of Paste a fan letter saying that, as a fellow editor and music fan, I admired his product and wanted to let him know. [We editors get a fair amount of letters outlining things we've gotten wrong or things that made readers mad, so it's nice to get a letter full o' kudos every now and then.] No reply from Ed Paste yet.

I have been accused of being a musical snob. Guilty as charged! I know what I like.

My friend Lisa once told me she could tell whether I'd like a song or not "because there's a certain something similar in all the songs you love." Hmmm. Is that good or bad?

The latest Paste Sampler CD [#38] has one good song and one great one. The good one's charm has worn off already. It's the great one that's been in my head this past week.

The Song in My Head

"I'll Follow You Tonight"
by Anna Ternheim

This song is haunting and beautiful. Perfect music for a dreary winter afternoon. I'm glad it's the song in my head right now.

Anna Ternheim is a Swedish singer/guitarist/songwriter who's already hit the big time in Sweden (just like another recent fave of mine Jose Gonzalez). She's been on tour this year, opening most recently for Ohio's own Joseph Arthur for his U.K. shows.

Want more info?
Anna Ternheim's My Space page. And her official website. And her wiki-nod.
On her website, click on Music, scroll down to "Ill Follow You Tonight" music video to see her sing about half this lovely song.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Songs in My Head on Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, a holiday that often passes without much notice, especially for younger people. I was never in the service, but my dad was. He served in the Army during the Korean War. He was lucky and talented enough as a musician to spend his service time stateside, playing in the Second Army Band. That's him standing in the middle-back of this quartet.

I got to play a couple of songs with my dad today at my regular Sunday jazz gig. He came down to the hotel to sit in on piano for Bruce DeMoll (himself a veteran of the US Navy Band during the Korean War). Both Dad and Bruce really came into their own as musicians during their time in the service.

More than 1,000 World War II veterans die every day, according to researchers who worked on Ken Burns' incredible documentary, "The War." And with them go their stories, memories, and experiences. Our World War I veterans are nearly all gone, now. My grandmother Thompson, who died in 1997 at the age of 97, remembered, as a young girl, hearing Civil War veterans who worked on her dad's farm, talking about that great conflict. Imagine that!

Two songs came to my ears today--songs that made me think about Veterans Day, and about all those who have served. They also made me think about the horrible waste, and utter sadness and senselessness of war--any war.

The songs are:

Day After Tomorrow
by Tom Waits
The version I heard was sung by Linda Thompson
on her recent album "Versatile Heart."
You can hear her version in the auto-player here.


And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
by Eric Bogle
I heard a version sung by Christy Moore.
You can hear a version sung by the song's author, here.
And a short sample of the Pogues' version is here.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Song in My Head

Say, since we're speaking of profanity...

The song in my head tonight comes straight out of Mark Hellenberg's excellent radio show on WOUB-FM (Athens, Ohio's NPR hook-up), called "Crossing Boundaries." Many times I've heard a song he's played and raced right to the laptop to find out more about the artist and often to buy the song.

Last night, on the way home from a late night at work which followed a butt-kicker of a day, I found myself gritting my remaining teeth, when out of the car's speakers came a song by an artist I'd never heard of: Jenny Owen Youngs.

Hmmm a new artist, I thought...cello intro is nice, soothing almost. This female vocalist has a funny twang to her singing, a slightly hoarse voice tinged with a bit of tremolo. She was singing a song which had a chorus that asked the Question For the Ages:
What the *%$# Was I Thinking?

OK I'm hooked...

Of course on Mark's show, her naughty words were blanked out. But, as I steered the van through the challenging curves on the road home, I laughed until I cried hearing this sweet-voiced young woman verbalizing my exact thoughts, accompanied by acoustic guitar, cello, and drums. It was a perfect meeting of new song and old feeling. I surrendered to the waltzing flow.

Within an hour of arriving home the song was mine, with all lyrics intact and not a bleep within hearing.

I do not recommend this song to you if four-letter words beginning in F are not your cup of tea. But for me the song strikes the perfect chord. At least for now. It's so nice when someone else says your bad words for you, and says them exactly right.

Tonight the Song in My Head is:
F*#* Was I?

by Jenny Owen Youngs

from her album:
atten the Hatches

I especially like this line:
Skillet on the stove is such a temptation.
Maybe I'll be the lucky one who doesn't get burned?

Check it out, if you're a brave soul.
But consider yourself warned about the bad words (and understand that if you sing along, you might get your mouth washed out with soap).


Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Song in My Head

The Song in My Head is:
by Ryan Adams and The Cardinals
from their new album
"Easy Tiger"

Ryan Adams seems to record several albums each year and this new one's already in heavy rotation for me. I first heard a song from this CD on The Henry Rollins Show in the Independent Film Channel. It was a heavy jam called Goodnight Rose and did not give me hope for the appeal of this new CD, at least to my ears, which prefer RA's more melodic work (see: La Cienega Just Smiled, When Stars Go Blue, Harder Now that It's Over, Call Me on Your Way Back Home...). Not that I don't love a heavy jam, mind you....

Then I heard Everybody Knows from "Easy Tiger," the first cut on the Paste Magazine compilation CD # 32 and I was hooked...

You know all those kooks camping outside the Apple Store waiting to by an iPhone? Well I was kind of like that for this album, "Easy Tiger." I didn't camp out anywhere to buy it, (though I DID play Everybody Knows at least 1,000 times while driving during the past month) but I did [warning: geek-moment alert!] pre-buy it from the iTunes Store. Yep! Downloaded it as soon as I could and started listening.

The first track I sparked on was Two which is also included as a live version with a bonus video of the band playing. NICE!

It's the melody that really hooked me. I'm a sucker for a nice melody. Throw in some pedal steel guitar behind the shimmering electric guitars, and a straight-up drum beat and I'm hitting the REPEAT button, babe.

I'm still listening to Two and grooving on the video of the band playing--checking out what guitars and amps they're using. The lyrics are nice, too, but, like I said, it's the melody. This guy's got catchy songwriting hooks in his DNA.

While we were in Maine, Two was the song was in my head and I was singing it to myself when I took the photograph above at low tide near Tenant's Harbor: something about the rock holding on to the seaweed (or is it vice versa?) that caught my eye.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

The Song in My Head

Is it too early to start thinking about summer? I hope not. Because I'm listening holes in a new song about summer from a newish (to me) band called The Decemberists.

I first heard about The Decemberists from my sister Laura, who has great taste in music. So when I read all the raves about the band's album called The Crane Wife, I paid attention. Last month I finally downloaded the album from the iTunes store.

Yes, I'm pleased to report, The Crane Wife lives up to its hype.

This band reminds me of The Band, and of CSNY, and of much of the great melodic, non-formulaic music I've always loved. I'm drawn to music that has layers of meaning and melody, like peeling an onion. And in this way, The Decemberists could be called The Onionists. Their songs are like epic dramas--every one telling a whole story with full character development.

Today, The Song in My Head, is:
by The Decemberists

from their album
The Crane Wife

There's a guitar/melodion riff at the start of Summersong that is reminiscent of the famous guitar riff in Breakdown by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This made me love it on first listen.

The instrumentation in Summersong is fab. The arrangement of the song is strong to the point of being Beatles-esque. The tempo lilting. The lyrics are fascinating and deep.
The vocals are alluring. All in all one great song. Go here to learn about the band, and to listen to their online jukebox.

Give The Decemberists a try. I know I'll be listening to them all year long--not just in December.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Song in My Head

I had THE most vivid music dream last night.

In the dream, I was down in the mountains of Tennessee and somehow I ended up at an old cabin where they were recording a country music radio show, featuring Johnny Cash. And the radio show's producers were asking for volunteers to play three songs each with The Man in Black. You had to perform one of Johnny's songs. Then sing a cover song of your choice by another artist. Then you had to sing one of your OWN songs.

There were about a dozen other people there, all musicians, and they were struggling to come up with their three songs. The next thing I knew I was up there on the creaky stage, standing next to Mr. Cash (who smelled of beer) grinning like a fool, trying to remember what songs I wanted to do. We played a passable version of "Ring of Fire," my fave Johnny C. song. Then I pulled out a song I just learned, called "Blue Northern Lights" by Ollabelle. It's a lovely ballad with pedal steel guitar moaning in the background. Johnny Cash raved about it and wanted to play it over again.

Lastly I played him one of my up-tempo mountain-music tunes, called "I Don't Want to Be A Soldier Boy" about a reluctant participant in the American Civil War. He liked that one, too, but he LOVED the Ollabelle song. And I can see why, since it's been the Song in My Head for two weeks.

Too bad Johnny Cash is gone. In my dream he was a prince of a nice guy--very supportive of the younger artists trying to impress him. I have no idea what the dream meant, or what it portends, but it was vivid as heck. I can still smell the old cabin!

Ollabelle is a relatively new band with a great musical lineage. One of the female members of the band, Amy Helm, is the daughter of Levon Helm, drummer for The Band. Ollabelle has a very old-timey musical sensibility, without getting boringly repetitive. And since so many band members sing and play instruments, they put out a lot of different sounds. You can hear some of these songs and sounds here:

Tonight the Song in My Head is:

Blue Northern Lights
by Ollabelle

from their recent album
Riverside Battle Songs

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Friday, March 02, 2007

The Song in My Head

Today I awoke with an old favorite song rolling through my head. It's The Ballad of Easy Rider by The Byrds. I used to play this song with my pals Joe Parisi and Bill Beadell in our old-timey trio "The Flat World Band." This river, above, is one I visited in Guatemala a few weeks ago, flowing out of an underground cave and down the mountainside.

For some reason that song seems right for today. We're heading out on the road again for another speaking gig soon. And with spring upon us the rivers are flowing and reminding us of this season's penchant for renewal, for washing clean, and for the emergence of new life.

March came in like a lion. I hope it goes out like a lamb.

Anyway, here are the lyrics to The Song in My Head, The Ballad of Easy Rider.

The river flows, it flows to the sea.
Wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be.
Flow, river flow, let your waters wash down,
Take me from this road, to some other town.

All he wanted, was to be free,
And that's the way, it turned out to be,
Flow, river flow, let your waters wash down,
Take me from this road, to some other town.

Flow, river flow, past the shaded tree,
Go river, go, go to the sea,
Flow, to the sea.

Wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be.
Flow, river flow, let your waters wash down,
Take me from this road, to some other town.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Song in My Head

by Lucinda Williams
from her new album "West"

Lucinda's new album is getting knocked around by the critics. I heard this song while driving alone down a Florida highway late at night and immediately put it on heavy rotation. Critics be damned.

The lyrics deal with Lucinda's passion for writing, especially putting actual pen to actual paper. Those of us who write regularly might be able to relate.

Here in the so-called blogosphere, being able to create something meaningful with words is a daily ritual--some would call it a chore. I find it to be a great release. Some days it's inspired. Some days it's tired. But it's always a pleasure to share with the tiny portion of the world that occasionally tunes in here to BOTB.

Lucinda Williams is one of my all-time favorite artists. Her songs are never complicated. And you can always rely upon her to shoot you straight. Many of her songs are ones I would have to take on my Desert Island Disc--songs I'd be willing to listen to endlessly were I stranded forever on a desert island. "Blue," "Passionate Kisses," "I Envy the Wind," and "Essence" are just a few.

Lucinda sings these words in "Words," and more....

Deep down within me
words move in phases
frozen and still
till they decide
to melt and drip
over the pages
until that moment
they live inside.
. . . . .
once they get going,
they never waver
and they slip in between your
if, ands, and buts
. . . . .
they still remain my only companion
loyal and true to the very end
they'll never, ever completely abandon
ever give up the paper and the pen


Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Song in My Head

Tonight the song in my head is:

Transcontinental 1:30 a.m.
by Vienna Teng
from her album
"Dreaming Through the Noise"

I love this woman's voice.

Julie always says I am a sucker for a woman singing sweetly with an accent (see Ivy, Bjork, Garbage, Edith Piaf) but I also like to listen to nice female voices without accents (see Sheryl Crow, Lori Carson, Natalie Merchant, Aimee Mann) and Vienna Teng has no accent that I can discern, but then I've only listened to this song 10,000 times so far.

In Transcontinental 1:30 a.m. I can tell that she's singing very softly in the studio, very close to a microphone that's cranked up to maximum sensitivity. This gives this song a personal, proximate feeling, like she's singing just for you, the listener, right in your ear.

I first heard this song about three months ago on Mark Hellenberg's Crossing Boundaries show on WOUB-FM out of Athens, Ohio. I was in my car, driving home from working late, and I had to stop and listen to the entire song, then wait for the end of Mark's five-song set, to hear the artist's name. This is not the first time this excellent show has turned me on to a new artist. And this is also why I send in my pledge money every year to support our local public radio station. I'm not hearing this kind of music anywhere else...

You can hear Transcontinental 1:30 a.m., and several others by Ms. Teng, here. Or you can visit her website and listen to the songs she's posted for the public.

Here are the lyrics to this song, from Vienna Teng's website:

Transcontinental, 1:30 a.m.

wait. don't let this line go slack. don't go alone into the cold. wait. don't give up on this yet. I know that there's more you haven't told. wait my love, just one more thought...wait my love, I haven't got time in my life to watch you drift out to sea. so please, wait. don't let this line go slack. I want to bring you back to where I know you. wait. don't give up on this yet. I just want you to let you let me hold you. wait my love, just one more thought...wait my love, I haven't got time in my life to watch you drift away. but I've all kinds of time if you'll stay. I know we're transcontinental, 1:30 a.m. and there's not even a wire, just a whispering in air. I know we're transcontinental, 1:30 a.m. but I'm here.